Friday, June 26, 2020

Colorado Springs, Public Health launch #MaskUpCOS as COVID-19 explodes in U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 3:41 PM

If people won't take it upon themselves to help suppress the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, perhaps they'll listen to a Penrose Hospital emergency room doctor, an oncology nurse from UCHealth, a mom with an immunocompromised child, a nursing home worker, a retired Army soldier, a paralympian, a business owner and a pastor.

At least that's the hope of Colorado Springs and El Paso County Public Health officials as the virus spreads across the country, with some states marking in recent days the highest numbers yet for new cases of COVID-19.

Colorado's numbers have remained more moderate, but they're still on the rise.

Officials, including Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, launched the #MaskUpCOS campaign on June 26, hoping to stem the spread of a disease for which there is no treatment and no cure — a disease that's claimed 1,475 lives in Colorado, including 121 in El Paso County. The virus has killed more than 127,000 people across the United States — more than the entire population of Pueblo.

Check out the latest number of cases in El Paso County.

  • El Paso County Public Health

The MaskUpCOS campaign will rely on social media, other media, editorial pitches and video and tell stories of local residents at risk or those at risk of infecting others.

As city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says in a news release: “There’s been so much information out there about infection rates, hospitalization rates, shifting data, that the whole pandemic has started to feel really sterile and impersonal. But we know the impacts of this virus are actually the exact opposite."

She adds that the spokespersons chosen to make pleas to the public include local residents.

“We’ve been sending the message that wearing a mask may not be about protecting yourself, but if you are able to reduce the risk for just one person — you could have a much bigger impact than you know,” Dr. Robin Johnson, Medical Director for El Paso County Public Health, said in a release. “Also, when you look at our spokespeople, it should strike you that they don’t look vulnerable or unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t, or that they don’t have contact with those at very high risk.”

"My colleagues need for you to help us prevent the spread," Dr. Michael Roshon said during a news conference on June 26.

Suthers, who consistently wears a mask in public, warned citizens that it's impossible to know who's at risk of becoming a COVID victim and who might be a spreader of the disease, but it's up to everyone to help the community stay safe "in these uncertain times," he said.

"We’re prioritizing this messaging in an effort to protect our community," he said, reminding people that state and county public health officials as well as those with the federal Centers for Disease Control say masks provide a layer of protection for those around you.

While someone might not feel sick, they can be a carrier of the disease and not know it; by not wearing a mask, they run the risk of spreading the disease, health officials have said.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who also serves as deputy director of Public Health, said there's no secret of how to stop the spread.

"Very simple: wash your hands, don’t gather in large groups, stay home when you’re sick and wear the mask," he said.

Meantime, El Paso County Commissioners have pushed to reopen the economy and get permission for groups of up to 175 to congregate.

As Suthers and the others urged, won't you join in helping to protect your fellow citizens, like these:
  • Photos by Lauren MacKenzie
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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

COVID-19 update for June 23: Shuttle buses and special events variance sought

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 4:21 PM

Shuttles could carry more passengers under a variance proposed by El Paso County in its effort to reopen the economy from the shutdown due to the coronavirus. - BETHANY ALVAREZ
  • Bethany Alvarez
  • Shuttles could carry more passengers under a variance proposed by El Paso County in its effort to reopen the economy from the shutdown due to the coronavirus.
Shuttle buses and vans, restaurants and private special events could host more people amid the coronavirus pandemic under a variance application unanimously approved by El Paso County commissioners on June 23 and now awaiting approval by the state.

Under current state orders, up to 10 people can travel in shuttle buses and vans, which must have its windows open during transport. Larger vehicles can contain no more than 50 percent of capacity, or less if distancing requirements cannot be met.

Under the county's proposal, shuttle buses and vans would operate at 75 percent capacity or the maximum allowed as long as 6-foot distancing is observed. Riders must wear face coverings and windows must be open. In addition, hand sanitizer must be available to riders upon entering and exiting the vehicle, and the buses and vans must be cleaned and disinfected at least three times a day.

Restaurants are limited to 50 percent occupancy or 50 people, under the state's rules. Counties with a low level of spread can obtain variances up to 50 percent of fire code occupancy or 175 people for confined indoor spaces, whichever is less.

The county wants to change that to 50 percent capacity or 175 people, whichever is less, in restaurants and for private special events.

That would be an important change for hotels that host conferences and other events, notably The Broadmoor.

Jack Damioli, The Broadmoor's president and CEO, told commissioners that shuttle buses serve more than just attractions. "This is important for the economy and for the tourism industry," he said. "The one size fits all doesn’t really apply and should not apply. Those who have larger facilities should have a larger capacity particularly in conjunction with outdoor space."

The Broadmoor's facilities can handle thousands of people under normal circumstances.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf told Damioli, "I look forward to The Broadmoor opening up. I look forward to coming out there [for a meal]."

"We need to get this economy rolling again," Commission Chair Mark Waller said. "Travel and tourism is a big deal."

In other news:

El Paso County has seen an uptick in cases and deaths in the last nine days, compared to the nine days prior to that. From June 6 through 14, 110 cases and four deaths were reported. Since June 15, nearly twice that number, 211 cases, have been tallied, and 11 people have died, according to El Paso County Public Health data.

Altogether, the county has reported 118 deaths and 2,153 cases.

Statewide, Colorado has 30,893 cases as of June 22, the most recent available; 5,366 people have been hospitalized, and 288,079 tests administered. The death count stands at 1,455 for those who died from COVID-19, and 1,665 for those who died with the disease but not necessarily because of it.

Read the county's variance outline here:

As for property values, El Paso County Assessor Schleiker said values of single family homes have actually gone up since January.
The number of commercial sales, however, dropped by 80 percent in April compared to January.

Total sales fell by about 10 percent during that time, which didn't surprise Schleiker. "It's not alarming, because title companies had to go through major business process changes to comply with social distancing."

Here's a graphic showing the number of sales:
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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

COVID-19 update for June 16: Bars, concert venues could open soon

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2020 at 5:38 PM

Under the next phase of Colorado's coronavirus response, standard-sized indoor venues may be allowed to open for events with up to 50 people. - JACKIE VITETTA
  • Jackie Vitetta
  • Under the next phase of Colorado's coronavirus response, standard-sized indoor venues may be allowed to open for events with up to 50 people.

Through June 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 29,442 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Statewide, 1,617 people have died with COVID-19, and of those, the deaths of 1,373 people were directly attributed to the disease.

El Paso County Public Health was reporting 1,992 cases and 112 deaths by the afternoon of June 16. The county reported 32 new cases on June 16, representing a jump: The daily average over the previous seven days was 10.29 cases.

Meanwhile, Colorado bars and concert venues — many of which have been closed since March — may be able to open in late June or early July with precautionary measures in place, Gov. Jared Polis announced June 15.

These changes will take place as part of the third major phase of the state's coronavirus response, following "Stay at Home" and "Safer at Home."

The new phase, called "Protect Our Neighbors," will provide more flexibility for individual counties based on the size of local outbreaks in different parts of the state.

Under the state's proposed plan for this phase, all activities (other than mass gatherings with 500 people or more) would be permitted at 50 percent capacity.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to find a way to sustainably live with this virus in our communities until there is a cure or vaccine," Polis said in a statement. "If we can continue to wear masks, stay six feet away from others and empower our local public health agencies to meet the needs of their communities, then we can rely on these tools to flatten the potential second wave and reduce future outbreaks."

Counties could enter the "Protect Our Neighbors" phase when they meet:

• "Low disease transmission levels";
• "Local public health agency capacity for testing, case investigation, contact tracing, and outbreak response"; and
• "Hospital ability to meet the needs of all patients and handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care."

The state expects some counties to begin transitioning into this phase by late June or early July.

Throughout the pandemic, the state health department wants Coloradans to maintain 60 percent social distancing. This means having less than half the number of close interactions, on average, as you normally would.

You can submit comments on the "Protect Our Neighbors" framework online through June 18.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is also seeking feedback on draft guidelines for residential camps and events. These guidelines would apply to counties in the "Safer at Home" phase.

For residential camps, the department proposed that camps should limit group sizes to 25 people outdoors or 10 people indoors, and allow for 6 feet of distance between campers. Family- or buffet-style meals would be prohibited.

CDPHE's draft guidance for indoor events includes limiting attendance at standard-sized venues to 50 people or 25 percent of the venue's capacity, whichever is fewer. Large venues could accommodate up to 75 people, and extra-large venues (larger than 11,300 square feet) could allow 100 people at events.

Under the draft guidance for outdoor events, CDPHE proposes increasing those limits — up to 50 people or 50 percent capacity for standard venues, 125 people for large venues and 175 people for extra-large venues.

Both indoor and outdoor venues would be required to ensure 6 feet of distance between people lined up at entrances and exits.

People interested in submitting feedback on any of the draft guidance should do so by 5 p.m. June 17.

CDPHE released a "risks and benefits" guide to help people decide whether to engage in certain activities during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People need to be informed, then use their judgement to make individual decisions about what works best for them, their household members, and their communities,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said in a statement from CDPHE. “We really need everyone’s help to contain COVID-19 in Colorado. We all need to have fewer interactions with fewer people while maintaining social distancing.”

According to the guide, camping outside or visiting a vacation home poses low risks of virus transmission. CDPHE recommends camping or vacationing with members of your own household.

On the opposite end, CDPHE classifies going to bars and attending a protest among "high-risk" activities. People who participate in these activities are encouraged to wear a mask whenever possible.

Those who face extra risks of experiencing serious symptoms from COVID-19 (including people older than 65, those with chronic lung disease and the immunocompromised) should "aim to limit in-person interactions with others as much as they can, and carefully consider the risks and benefits of activities in which they choose to participate," CDPHE's statement says. 

CDPHE says outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, and smaller group sizes are also less risky. Doing an activity for a shorter amount of time, wearing a face mask and keeping 6 feet away from other participants can help decrease the risk of virus transmission.

The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center and El Paso County Public Health will host a webinar for small businesses on June 19 at 11:30 p.m. The session will cover "contact tracing and best practices for data collection to help keep your and your customer's data secure."

The Fourth Judicial District will resume jury trials starting the week of July 6. It's the first judicial district in the state to seek and receive approval to do so by the Colorado Supreme Court, according to a statement from the Colorado Judicial Department.

"Trial by jury is the cornerstone of our judicial system, and there is no way to fairly and effectively effect justice without it,” Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge Bain said in a statement. “With the thoughtful planning we have put in place in consultation with our local health experts, I am confident we can conduct these trials in a safe and efficient manner for everyone involved.”

People who receive a jury summons but are at high risk of serious illness due to COVID-19, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have been in direct contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the two weeks before they're scheduled to appear are asked to contact the jury commissioner to reschedule their jury service.

Everyone involved in jury trials at the courthouse must wear masks — except the judge, who isn't required to wear a mask when they're 6 feet away from others in the courtroom.

The Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 205, the "Healthy Families and Workplaces Act," on June 15. The bill — sponsored by Sens. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, along with Reps. KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton — requires employers to provide employees with paid sick leave for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of the year, as specified in federal coronavirus relief legislation.

But the bill also goes further: It requires all employers to keep providing paid sick leave to their employees starting Jan. 1, 2021, accrued at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, up to 48 total hours of paid sick leave.
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Sheriff's Office outlines nearly $13.6 million in CARES Act spending

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2020 at 12:26 PM

The Criminal Justice Center will suck up most of the $13.6 million the Sheriff's Office will spend from the CARES Act. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • The Criminal Justice Center will suck up most of the $13.6 million the Sheriff's Office will spend from the CARES Act.
El Paso County plans to spend more than $13 million of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation on improvements to the Criminal Justice Center.

The $1.1 trillion bill, adopted by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump March 27, contained extra money for those thrown out of work due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as money for states and counties.

El Paso County snagged $127.5 million and shared it with cities and towns in the county while keeping $84.4 million.

Prisons and jails have proven to be hot spots for the virus across the country, although that hasn't been the case here. An El Paso County Jail deputy died of COVID-19 on April 1 and three other jail deputies have tested positive, but no inmates have tested positive, Sheriff's spokesperson Deb Mynatt says. Five deputies assigned to other areas also have tested positive.

On June 16, the Sheriff's Office announced how it has allocated $13,585,940, which must be spent by year's end.

• $600,000 — replace property conveyor in the El Paso County Jail. This is an apparatus that resembles a dry-cleaner carousel where inmates personal belongings are stored in close quarters. Mynatt says in an email that physical distancing required between these items mandates creating a more roomy situation to avoid cross-contamination. The remedy is to seal property in airtight bags and create a system allowing for more space.
• $4,686,440 — jail security cameras and door control upgrades
• $1,850,000 — jail facility door lock replacement
• $2,200,000 — jail lobby and locker remodel
• $950,000 — sheriff's training facility remodel
• $300,000 — upgrade equipment to improve sanitation and hygiene
• $250,000 — telemedicine equipment procurement
• $250,000 — visitation booth remodel for privacy and security during professional visits
• $1,161,000 — hazardous duty pay ($200 per pay period, which is twice a month)
• $500,000 — office cubicle update and safety improvements
• $200,000 — overtime pay to bring services back to expected levels
• $125,000 — redeployment of school resource officers
• $487,500 — redeployment of work release deputies
• $26,000 — video court expenditures

Mynatt explains these expenditures this way:
In order for us to be in compliance with COVID-19 [regulations], we locked down the jail and due to this we needed additional security, deputies assigned to Work Release were pulled from the Tejon [Street] location to the jail to assist. We also lost income due to the elimination of the [Work Release] program. This program will remain eliminated into the foreseeable future because of COVID-19.

[Overtime] was used due to the need for additional security to remain in compliance with COVID-19.

Because of COVID-19 the 60 different schools that we have placed School Resource Officers all requested for a refund of contract money. This would pay back those costs associated with the early cancellation of those paid contracts.

Other allocations by the county haven't been explicitly outlined, but a portion of the money has been assigned to El Paso County Public Health to hire personnel, to include contact tracers.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

El Paso County seeks local authority to reopen the regional economy

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 4:38 PM

Look for theaters and other entertainment venues to open, if El Paso County's variance request is approved by the state. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Look for theaters and other entertainment venues to open, if El Paso County's variance request is approved by the state.
El Paso County commissioners voted unanimously on June 9 to submit a variance request to reopen businesses ranging from gyms to theaters to tourist attractions under local authority.

That means that while certain rules will apply, El Paso County Public Health, not the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, would determine when to apply opening orders broadly or narrowly based on metrics of local conditions.

"EPC Public Health believes that it is well-positioned to respond to local conditions and implement focused local public health responses to such conditions," the application reads.

The request comes as the state's new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continue to decline day-by-day. On June 8, the most recent for which numbers were available, the state reported 28,339 cases; 1,291 deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,547 deaths of people who had COVID-19.

In El Paso County, 99 people have died of the virus and 1,885 have tested positive. But new cases have surged every day since May 31 when only 4 were reported. On June 8, 19 new cases were tallied.

El Paso County's variance request is the first time a county in Colorado has sought permission to act as its own authority in dictating opening and closure rules.

The application would allow reopening of gyms and fitness, dance, exercise or group classes; martial arts classes, exercise studios and centers; recreation centers and other indoor facilities; athletic training facilities, including Olympics venues; movie theaters and theaters for live performances; indoor malls; indoor and outdoor activities; attractions, defined as places of interest visited by people for their natural, cultural, educational, historical or unique entertainment value; the indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge; libraries and small private special events.

It will not pertain to bars, taverns, brew pubs, tasting rooms, clubs; arcades, rodeos, fairs, festivals or parades.

But under the variance, which must be approved by CDPHE and Gov. Jared Polis, owners or operators of facilities, attractions and events must develop written operational and disease transmission-mitigation plans that address sanitation, distancing and other recommendations. For example, occupancy of staff and customers is limited to 50 percent of capacity or the occupancy necessary to maintain the applicable 6-foot distancing requirements, whichever is less; 6 feet must be maintained between individuals or groups at the activity or attraction, and all high-touch areas must be "regularly cleaned and disinfected," among other things.

Employees must be monitored for symptoms of the disease and sent home if they exhibit signs of coronavirus.

Moreover, if two or more COVID-19 cases associated with any given site arise within a 14-day period, the owner/operator must cooperate with Public Health to investigate the outbreak and close temporarily as next steps are determined, which could include revising the safety plan and performing "enhanced" cleaning and disinfection.

The variance request was hailed by representatives of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC, Visit COS, Citadel and Chapel Hills malls, dance instructors and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, among many others.
Bowling alleys would be able to reopen under the county's variance request. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Bowling alleys would be able to reopen under the county's variance request.
But the criteria is strict. For example, malls must remove or block areas that encourage group gatherings, such as play areas and seated food court areas; promote social distancing; limit occupancy; and make disinfectant wipes available.

Public Health medical director Dr. Robin Johnson reminded the public that standard protective measures should remain the order of the day.

"Until we have a vaccine, we need to frequently wash hands, use sanitizer, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow, avoid touching your face, keep 6 feet of distancing and wear a face mask in public," she said.

Public Health attorney Lori Seago noted, "What this local control means is authority to adjust our local regulations … either up or down, depending on that local data and the metrics we’ve developed in the county. We are the first county to request that and we’ll see how that proceeds at the state level."
Santa's Workshop could reopen if the state approves the county's request. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Santa's Workshop could reopen if the state approves the county's request.
Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said businesses have told him their goal is to see "zero outbreaks."

"That speaks to the interests our businesses have in this community, to protect their employees and patrons, perhaps even exceeding some of the requirements we’re establishing here," he said.

PK Knickerbocker with the Pikes Peak Region Attractions Association representing 26 local tourist attractions, assured commissioners most owners are local residents with strong family ties locally who want to collaborate to achieve safe reopening. She also noted that tourism brings in billions to the local economy and millions in tax revenue.

"Our region was founded on tourism and wellness," Doug Price with Visit COS said. "From the people at the mall and people from attractions… I stand before you today to say thank you for what you’ve done."

Said Commissioner Holly Williams, "Hopefully, this is a big step forward and we will get back to normalcy."

Read the variance application here:

In other news:

Colorado Springs' sales tax report for May, reflecting taxes collected in April, the first full month of the shutdown, showed a decrease of 21.77 percent over the same period a year ago.
The Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax was down 74 percent.

The largest increases were seen in medical marijuana (41 percent), commercial machines (24 percent) and groceries (16.5 percent).

The largest declines were shown by hotels (92 percent), clothing (79 percent) and furniture and appliances (50 percent).

The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, after closing its facilities in mid-March due to Gov. Polis’ COVID-19 executive order, will begin reopening June 15 under guidance of state and local health authorities. The phased plan will see reopening of Briargate, Downtown, First & Main, Southeast and Tri-Lakes YMCAs.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living sent to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency a request for $5 billion in emergency funding and support for assisted living communities in response to the pandemic. More than 42,000 assisted living facilities serve more than a million residents nationwide.

Casinos are prepping for an opening next week. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Casinos are prepping for an opening next week.
Casinos in Cripple Creek will begin reopening on June 15 under guidelines approved by CDPHE. Visitors can use the slot machines but table games will remain closed. Hotels and restaurants are open.

The Division of Youth Services secure centers' population has been reduced by 30 percent, or 178 youth, since March 1, the Colorado Department of Human Services said in a release.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said he would not renew the curfew he imposed on June 3 which expired on June 8, crediting "our citizens who have engaged in speech and assembly in Colorado Springs in the highest traditions of social action in America."
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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Mayor Suthers orders curfew in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2020 at 2:04 PM

Mayor John Suthers has ordered a 10 p.m. curfew in Colorado Springs. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Mayor John Suthers has ordered a 10 p.m. curfew in Colorado Springs.

In response to late-night vandalism and confrontations between protesters and police, Mayor John Suthers has ordered Colorado Springs residents to stay at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting June 3.

Protests in Colorado Springs against police brutality — following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis security guard — began May 30 and have been mostly peaceful.

Protests kicked off nationally when Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers also pinned down Floyd. The entire incident was captured on video, sparking national outrage at police brutality against black people.

Colorado Springs has not escaped the unrest. (See our cover story this week for more protest coverage.)

"Particularly during the daylight hours, folks have been organized, have been very peaceful, have been cooperative with the police trying to get them through intersections and things like that," Suthers said at a news conference June 3. "...I'm very complimentary of the police exercising appropriate discretion to assist them in the process of exercising their First Amendment rights."

The city has incurred tens of thousands of dollars in property damage from smashed windows and other vandalism, Suthers said. Protesters have thrown rocks, bottles, bricks and firecrackers at police officers.

"We've had some significant property damage," Suthers said. "A community room window shattered, that was $1,500; armored vehicle damage to a windshield, that’s $5,000; floodlights and mounts damaged; eight Colorado Springs police vehicles damaged; 14 windows at the county courthouse damaged; one at the municipal court; and we have had 75 locations where we have cleaned up graffiti."

Police have in some instances used 40mm rubber rounds and tear gas against protesters, and a video circulating on social media appears to show officers hitting a man who is pinned on the ground.

Colorado Springs had so far resisted implementing a curfew like the ones in Denver and other major cities facing larger protests and more confrontations.

A crowd of around 200 protesters marched down Nevada Avenue the evening of June 2. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • A crowd of around 200 protesters marched down Nevada Avenue the evening of June 2.

Under Suthers' new order, the curfew will remain in effect each night through the morning of June 8.

"We are not doing this to discourage protests," he said, explaining that most of the unlawful activity has been occurring after 10 p.m.

After 10 p.m., if people are still congregated, officers will "disperse the crowd," Suthers said.

"I'm hoping that we'll have compliance, but we're not naive about it," he said. "...We believe some people will probably violate the curfew."

In regards to the video showing officers hitting a person on the ground, Suthers, like Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski, was hesitant to criticize the officers' use of force.

"I would encourage folks to wait and see what the whole situation is and actually what the officers are trying to accomplish," Suthers said "If a person is tightening up into a ball and is ...being resistant to the police, they may be applying, they may be hitting certain muscles in the leg that cause you, by training, to unleash your body tension."

Suthers says "particular incidents where [citizens] thought the police were using inappropriate force" will "absolutely be reviewed."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with a quote from Suthers describing property damage.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

COVID-19 roundup for June 2: County commissioners want control of reopening economy

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 5:19 PM

Commissioner Holly Williams - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Commissioner Holly Williams
El Paso County commissioners, all Republicans, lashed out at Democratic Gov. Jared Polis during the board's meeting June 2, asserting that they, not the governor, should decide when and how businesses and activities reopen for business amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Holly Williams called Polis' orders "a maze of regulations" that she finds "very hard to understand."

She noted counties have submitted roughly 30 different types of variances, which she said are reviewed by "faceless bureaucrats."

"These need to be taken care of by local officials. We know best. We have a law-abiding community. We've done very well to get the numbers [of COVID-19] cases down," she said.

She also called for Polis to allow local school boards to decide if and how schools resume in the fall.

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. agreed, saying he wants "to regain that local control that he took from us."

Governor Polis: "Remember we're dealing with a global pandemic." - COURTESY STATE OF COLORADO
  • Courtesy State of Colorado
  • Governor Polis: "Remember we're dealing with a global pandemic."
During a news briefing, Polis noted variances take about a week to process, and reminded citizens that despite the protests over the death of George Floyd, which have drawn thousands of demonstrators into the streets, people should remember to social distance and wear masks when around people other than those in their household to guard against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"One of my greatest fears watching events over the last weekend was that so many people gathering together will spread the coronavirus," he said. "Only in coming weeks will we see the impact on these people. It could result in hundreds of more cases."

As of June 2, Polis said, the state had 26,783 cases; 1,473 people have died with the virus, while 1,228 of those died because of the virus. Seven of the last 14 days have shown a "downward trend," he said.

(El Paso County Public Health reports 1,790 cases, 259 hospitalizations and 95 deaths. There were four new cases on May 31, a spike of 17 on June 1 and then a drop to five on June 2.)

Polis also urged people who want to attend a protest to keep distance between themselves and others and wear a mask or face covering.

"With so many people in one area, and it’s a certainty there were carriers of the coronavirus and there's no question those who congregated face a risk," he said. "I strongly encourage everyone who attended the protests to get tested. It's quick, free and easy."

He said those who attended the protests can get tested, even if not symptomatic, at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Polis said the state is capable of processing 7,000 to 8,000 tests per day via 46 testing sites in the state.

He also announced 800 contact tracers will soon go into action via AmeriCorps and the Senior Corps.

"We need to remember we’re dealing with a global pandemic," he said. "We’re in this for the long haul. We need to live in a safe and sustainable way, without having another spike that would overrun our hospitals systems and lead to unnecessary loss of life."

He noted that playgrounds and swimming pools can open in June if certain rules are followed, and houses of worship can resume hosting up to 50 worshipers in a group, according to the guidelines, which can be found here.

He reminded citizens to stay home when possible; older Coloradans and those with underlying health conditions should stay home or enjoy the outdoors with safe distancing; wear a mask when encountering those beyond their household and seek testing if symptomatic or if in contact with an infected person.

From a June 1 news release, Polis announced the new phase of guidance, called "Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors." The two previous phases were "Safe at Home" imposed in March, and "Safer at Home" imposed in late April.
Previously, high-risk Coloradans, those above 65 or with underlying health conditions, were required to stay home unless absolutely necessary. With this Executive Order, those individuals are now encouraged to also enjoy Colorado’s outdoor spaces at a safe social distance, in addition to staying at home as much as possible. This Executive Order also directs the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to issue a corresponding Public Health Order.

CDPHE is also releasing draft guidance on houses of worship, outdoor recreation, personal recreation, and updates to the child care and personal services guidances. Playgrounds and swimming pools can open at limited capacity and the Governor encourages people to have safe fun outdoors away from others. CDPHE is soliciting input from industry and key stakeholders on the draft guidance, and comments are due by Wednesday, at 12:00pm. Final versions will be released Thursday, June 4, 2020. CDPHE also released guidance for short-term rentals, allowing them to reopen as of June 1, 2020. Guidance issued under Safer at Home is still in effect unless updated by this Executive Order or under CDPHE.
Also during a legislative update at the county commissioner meeting, Commissioners Mark Waller, Stan VanderWerf and Williams criticized several bills being debated by the state House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Democrats. For example, Waller called it "unconscionable" to adopt a bill that would require employers to provide paid vacation time to COVID victims.

"What a terrible time to introduce a piece of legislation like this," VanderWerf said. "This sounds like a money grab from companies. How does the legislature have the right to take money from companies? That sounds like an end run around another tax."

Williams said businesses are "making every exception" for those affected by the virus. "But to mandate it on business? It’s going to put more of our businesses out of business. Is the whole idea to cut down on the number of businesses we have in this state? It's another small business bill that’s going to kill businesses."
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 26: Restaurants can open statewide tomorrow

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 6:00 PM

Restaurants will need to disinfect their facilities frequently. - COURTESY BIOCLEAN COLORADO
  • Courtesy BioClean Colorado
  • Restaurants will need to disinfect their facilities frequently.

Through May 26, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 24,565 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease tied to the coronavirus.

Statewide, there have been 1,352 deaths among people with COVID-19 — including 1,114 deaths directly attributed to the disease — and 4,160 people hospitalized.

The county has seen 1,590 cases, 241 hospitalizations and at least 89 deaths, according to El Paso County Public Health.

While El Paso County obtained a variance allowing restaurants to reopen to the public May 23, areas of the state that didn't receive a similar go-ahead (and those who don't have stricter precautions in place) may open to the public starting May 27, Gov. Jared Polis reiterated at a news conference May 26.

Restaurants can open with 50 percent indoor capacity (or up to 50 people, whichever number is smaller), but can accommodate additional outdoor customers through patio seating or locally permitted use of other space outside their buildings. Breweries and bars can only open if they have food service on premises.

Summer day camps for children are also allowed to open June 1 with precautions in place. Campers must wear a mask whenever possible, and must congregate in groups of fewer than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors.

"It was a month ago, April 26, where we ended the stay-at-home order for Colorado," Polis said. "And we knew going into that, that that was a bet on the people of Colorado, a bet on the people to make the right decisions. It was a risk."

Ski areas will be allowed to reopen — minus indoor dining and bars — which Polis called "wonderful news."

Arapahoe Basin in Summit County plans to reopen May 27, he said.

A new report from the Colorado School of Public Health shows that if people maintain around 65 percent social distancing (less than half of the close interactions they would have during pre-pandemic times), the state can prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases that would overwhelm hospitals.

Even if additional restrictions lift later in June, older adults will need to have less than half of the interactions they normally would, or hospitals could still become overwhelmed, the report found.

"We reached roughly 80 percent [social distancing] for the stay-at-home, so in coming down we have some leeway in terms of the margin between where we were and where we're going to get to 65 percent," Dr. Jonathan Samet of the University of Colorado School of Medicine said at a news conference announcing the report's findings.

The Colorado Department of Human Services received federal approval to provide benefits to about 363,000 children who are unable to receive meals at school, the department announced.

Through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or P-EBT, children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals (and enrolled in a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program) can get extra food benefits, in addition to the grab-and-go meals that many schools have already been offering.

The P-EBT benefits amount to $5.70 per student per day of school closure, and families can expect them to be delivered starting around mid-June, DHS says in a statement.

For more information, visit

Polis took a brief moment of silence during his May 26 news conference (the day after Memorial Day) to honor the military service members who've given their lives for the country.

"We learned that we lost another veteran last night at the Veteran Community Living Center at Fitzsimmons [in Aurora], bringing their death toll from coronavirus to 15," Polis noted.

Veterans face unique economic and health-related challenges during the pandemic. According to an April report from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, approximately 14 percent of employed veterans nationwide work in the five industries most likely to witness immediate layoffs due to COVID-19.

"The COVID-19 pandemic creates at least three conditions (emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation, and unplanned job or wage loss) that could culminate in a 'perfect storm,' threatening the mental health of many veterans," the report summary notes.

Having trouble accessing unemployment benefits? You might find it useful to attend a virtual town hall on unemployment insurance, hosted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) on May 29.

Participants can register online for an English town hall at 9:15 a.m., or the Spanish town hall at 11:30 a.m. After registering, you'll receive more information on how to join online or via phone.

CDLE will address out-of-state wages, tips for claim filing, returning to work and eligibility, backdating and accessing online self-services.

The department has also posted a fact sheet online with more information on workers' rights during the pandemic.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Some El Paso County residents refuse to cooperate on COVID-19 contact tracing

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 5:51 PM

Data on COVID-19 infections in the county can be found on the Public Health dashboard. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • Data on COVID-19 infections in the county can be found on the Public Health dashboard.
Since businesses began to reopen after the state's month-long stay-at-home order imposed in March, angry messages from citizens have prompted El Paso County to beef up security of its offices, though no outright threats have been received, according to an advisory memo to Colorado Springs City Council obtained by the Indy.

In addition, more outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus have emerged, and it's rate of spread has more than doubled from 2.5 persons per infected person to nearly 7. Meantime, contact tracing experts at the county have encountered resistance from people who refuse to cooperate.

Moreover, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is causing spread in the Spanish-speaking community at a rate that has overtaken El Paso County Public Health's capacity to deal with those cases, and more bilingual investigators are being hired.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says this county's officials haven't had threats of violence against individuals. "However, there have been direct threats on other public health directors in the state," he says. "In Teller County, that public health director has had significantly aggressive threats." Her critics have even set up a website, smearing her and demanding she be fired, he says.

At Tri-County Department of Health, vandalism has occurred, he says, adding, "Almost every public health department is under siege."

"The temperament of a small vocal minority has grown more aggressive to public health," he says. "Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, we're working with the sheriff to provide security for Board of County Commissioner meetings and Public Health."

As troublesome, Kelly says, "We have had increasing resistance from individual who tested positive to cooperate with contact tracing.

"Businesses have been fully cooperative," he notes. "But we've had multiple individuals who have refused to answer questions — where they could have gotten it from and who else could be at risk. This, unfortunately, has been turned into a political issue."

Kelly notes that contact tracing is voluntary, and the identity of those infected aren't shared with others. "The part people don't get is the people you spend time around are people you care about, so those are the people we need to reach out to. I can't comprehend how someone would refuse to cooperate with voluntary questions that could save the lives of the people they care about most. It's hard. You're doing everything you can to get everybody where they want to go. It's like somebody's house is burning down and they want us to save it and they're throwing rotten tomatoes at us."

As for the spread to more people by each infected person, Kelly that's to be expected as people return to their jobs and get out and about.

"It's an important number to monitor. It's driven by number of people gathering in those interactions," he says. "Parties of 30 or more [elsewhere, not in El Paso County] has resulted in rapid, out of control spread, more than health departments and hospitals can handle."

Kelly called the lack of contact trace investigators for the Spanish speaking community "a big one."

The county started with one such investigator and has already added three. "But this week, it's clear that's not adequate. That's an area of focus for hiring immediately. We need to get to capacity and we need to do it yesterday."

The memo, sent May 20 to Council by Deputy Council Administrator Michael Montgomery, responded to questions posed by Councilor David Geislinger on May 16.

It said that threats and vandalism have led to increased security of county buildings as such activity has increased across the state. "In EPC [El Paso County] we have received expressions of anger and frustration but have not received direct threats to date," the memo said. "Watching what is happening in other jurisdictions, we are not waiting to engage in conversations regarding safety and security for our staff, facilities and clients. We have worked closely with EPSO [El Paso County Sheriff's Office] to increase security/monitoring of EPCPH [Public Health] facilities and we coordinate in advance when our Leadership are reporting out at public venues."

County commissioners have entertained dozens of citizens at recent commission meetings who demand businesses reopen to satisfy their right to assemble and move about as they please.

When non-essential business were forced to shutter between late March and May 1, outbreaks were largely confined to long-term care facilities. But Public Health has seen outbreaks emerge in construction and manufacturing, the memo said.

"Other counties throughout the state have also reported outbreaks in construction so our communicable disease epidemiology team is raising this as a potential area for increased activity," the memo said. "Our team tries to identify and interview cases early so that we can stop transmission and prevent large community-wide outbreaks. As we work with different business sectors we also engage our environmental health team so that we can make recommendations to reduce transmission in these settings."

In recent days, Public Health identified outbreaks, defined as two or more cases, at a Goodwill thrift store, McDonald's, Safeway, Walmart, Schommer Construction and Springs Fabrication.

The spread pre-reopening was determined to be from 2.5 to 2.8 people per infected person. After reopening began, the spread has grown to 6.8 contacts per case. Still, that's still substantially lower than the trigger point at which the county is willing to rethink the waiver's provisions. From the waiver application: "A median of 11 contacts per confirmed case will be considered as a threshold for review of this variance."

Public Health has bolstered its workforce with Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs BethEl student nurses and faculty, county coroner staff and additional staffing to be hired with money from the CARES Act.

Equally troubling is more cases emerging from the Spanish speaking community. While Public Health dealt with those cases early on with one specialist who spoke Spanish and interviewed Spanish-speaking infected persons, "Currently we have 4 investigators assigned to Spanish speaking clients and that capacity is being exceeded," the memo said. It added the agency plans to contract for more investigators who can reach out to Spanish speakers.

Regardless, county commissioners are seeking a waiver to allow re-opening of the hard-hit restaurant industry. They noted in the waiver application, "At this time El Paso county has adequate resources and surge capacity to contain and treat additional cases that may arise from limited on-premise dining in restaurants."

Although the application states that hospitals support the waiver, officials with UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Children's Hospital wrote that they relied on numbers provided by the county and that their facilities currently have hospital capacity to care for patients based on the "current infection data."

Centura Health gave a more broad approval, saying its hospitals are "prepared to serve COVID-19 patients in El Paso County."

County commissioners unanimously approved applying for a waiver from the state's safer-at-home order, imposed in late April under which some restrictions of the stay-home order have been eased, though restaurants and bars are to remain closed to dine-in customers.

Review the county's application here:

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 19: Polis allocates $1.6 billion in federal relief

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 5:31 PM

El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen.

Starting May 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began reporting COVID-19 deaths in two ways: the number of people who died with COVID-19, and the number of people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 on a death certificate.

CDPHE was reporting 1,257 deaths of people who had COVID-19 when they died, and 968 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 through May 18.

The state has had 22,482 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and 3,955 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

Meanwhile, El Paso County has had 1,376 cases, 235 hospitalizations and 85 deaths, according to El Paso County Public Health.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution May 19 supporting the Senior and Disabled Homestead Exemption, a property tax break for seniors and veterans with disabilities.

Legislative staff had recommended eliminating the exemption due to a projected $3.3 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Read more about the exemption here.

To the frustration of Republicans (including several county commissioners), Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order allocating $1.674 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.

"I am grateful for the support we have received from the federal government, but there will still be hardship ahead," Polis said in a May 18 statement. "This immediate disbursement ensures that no Coloradan has to go without a hospital bed when they need one, that the state can continue to scale up testing and containment, and protect our most vulnerable.

Through an executive order, Polis authorized transfers of:

• $48 million for the current fiscal year, which lasts through June, and $157 million for fiscal year 2020-2021, to the state's Disaster Emergency Fund for medical and public health expenses (including distributions to local public health agencies) due to the COVID-19 crisis;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $7 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Corrections for expenditures to comply with public health measures, such as sanitation and implementation of social distancing measures;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $1 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Human Services for expenditures related to compliance with public health measures veterans living facilities and other long-term care facilities;
• $2 million for FY 2019-20 and $20 million for FY 2020-21 to DHS for increased caseload in benefit programs;
• $37 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Education to respond to increased numbers of at-risk students and other effects of COVID-19;
• $10 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Local Affairs for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, as well as direct assistance, to individuals impacted by COVID-19;
• $510 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Education for expenditures related to remote learning, mitigating lost student progress and increasing free instructional hours;
• $450 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Higher Education to promote policies for retaining students without large increases in tuition;
• $28.9 million for FY 2019-20 and $55.9 million for FY 2020-21 for payroll expenses and other expenditures for public safety, health care and human services employees;
• $275 million for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21 for local governments that didn't receive direct allocations through the coronavirus relief package;
• and $70 million to the state general fund for eligible expenditures related to COVID-19.

Colorado Senate Republicans promptly issued a statement protesting Polis' decision to "unilaterally" allocate the money.

"In a violation of longstanding tradition that gives the people the authority of their tax dollars, the Governor has distributed these funds unilaterally, largely ignoring the needs of Coloradans who reside outside of the Denver metro area," Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. "The Governor's power grab makes it critical that we return to the Capitol now.”

Help Colorado Now, the state's COVID-19 fund, issued a third round of grants totaling $2.7 million to organizations supporting relief efforts. The fund has awarded a total of $11.1 million to 505 nonprofits, businesses and local governments across the state.

Among local awardees:

• Cheyenne Village received $10,000 to provide support for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
• Gateway to Success, which serves domestic violence victims and provides mental health and substance use in El Paso, Fremont, and Pueblo counties, received $25,000.
• Partners in Housing received $25,000 to help families experiencing homelessness.

El Paso County Public Health announced three new outbreaks of COVID-19. They include:

• McDonald’s at 535 Airport Creek Point (three employees tested positive);
• Springs Fabrication at 850 Aeroplaza Drive (two employees tested positive); and
• Cheyenne Mountain Care Center at 835 Tenderfoot Hill Road (two employees tested positive).

The health department also reports that one additional employee of the Walmart on 1575 Space Center Drive, and one new employee of the Discover Goodwill store at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases for each of those outbreaks to four.

Due to an increase in the availability of supplies, state and local health officials encourage anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (such as cough, fever and shortness of breath) to get tested.

"We are now encouraging you to get tested to see if it is COVID, if you have flu-like symptoms," Polis said at a May 18 news conference. "...Keep in mind that flu is mostly gone from our state."

Local, no-cost testing sites include:

• the UCHealth drive-thru testing site at 175 S. Union Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
• the Peak Vista Community Health Centers drive-thru testing site at 3205 N. Academy Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and
• the Pueblo County testing site at 1001 Beulah Ave. (enter through Gate 4 off Mesa Avenue and Gaylord Avenue), open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also has an online symptom tracker where you can report symptoms of COVID-19 to assist the state's ability to track outbreaks.

Up to 20 percent of staff who had been working remotely returned to work in city facilities this week, according to a May 18 statement from the city.

"This staff returns to join many essential employees and public safety workers who have necessarily continued to work on-site through the crisis," the statement says.

At the City Administration Building and City Hall, employees and visitors are required to undergo temperature and symptom checks upon entering, according to the statement. People with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater must return home and can't return for at least 72 hours.

"The City continues to do business during this time, but in-person services will continue to be extremely limited at administrative locations," the statement says. "The public is encouraged to use the GoCOS app, the city website and no-contact drop-box services to conduct business with the City."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct amount of federal relief money allocated to the Colorado Department of Education.
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In El Paso County, COVID-19 bypasses the eastern plains

Posted By and on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 2:22 PM

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 82 people across El Paso County, but has killed only two people in the north and none in the less populated eastern reaches of the county, according to recently released data.

Two restaurants in Calhan on the county's eastern plains — Karen's Kafe and Stephanie's Bar & Grill — defied public health cease-and-desist orders after reopening in recent weeks for dine-in business before the "safer-at-home" governor's order allowed. Although El Paso County Public Health issued that order, the restaurants remained open May 18. When the Indy called to ask why, a woman who answered the phone said, "Just call Public Health about all that."

We asked El Paso County Public Health why the eateries remain open. "Public Health has been continuing to work with the business to educate on the Safer at Home Order, provide outreach, and help the business achieve voluntary compliance," Public Health public information officer Michelle Hewitt says via email.

Meantime, Hewittit says it's hard to glean a meaning from deaths when they're charted geographically by ZIP code, as requested by the Indy.

She warns that the data set, which reports deaths through May 15, does not speak to the location of disease exposure.

"Any information or conclusions that utilize this data should include contextual facts," she writes in an email. "For example, approximately 50% of El Paso County COVID-19 deaths are associated with long-term care facilities."

ZIP codes 80909 and 80910 in central Colorado Springs had the most deaths, with 30 combined. The 80919 ZIP code, the city's northwest side, also had seen double-digit deaths. All three of those ZIP code areas host long-term care facilities on the list of eight locations of outbreaks in El Paso County.

"Please also note," she adds, "that while the zip code is an important fact, it does not tell the full story of infection. We consider other factors such as place of work, infection sources, outbreak and social contacts as important and other pieces of the puzzle."

Here's a list of ZIP codes. While 82 have died, one death does not contain an applicable ZIP code data point, Hewitt says.

We mapped the data, as seen below. ZIP codes with fewer than five deaths are displayed with a blue marker, those with five to nine deaths are shown with a yellow marker, and those with 10 or more have a red marker.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID-19 update, May 12: People demand businesses reopen

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2020 at 5:26 PM

The impact of the safe-at-home order imposed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus is clear in this chart of workers seeking unemployment. - COURTESY PIKES PEAK WORKFORCE CENTER
  • Courtesy Pikes Peak Workforce Center
  • The impact of the safe-at-home order imposed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus is clear in this chart of workers seeking unemployment.
About 20 El Paso County citizens blasted county commissioners and Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday, May 12, for allowing public health experts to steer their response to the coronavirus.

Nearly all appeared at the speakers' podium without masks, and none were observed using hand sanitizer available on the platform or sanitizing the sole microphone used by all.

A sampling of the comments:

"County commissioners have taken advice from public health instead of protecting the rights of people."

"It is not OK the governor is holding Colorado economic hostage. We should not have to be prisoners in our own homes...."

"Opening a business is not a process. It takes less than a minute. My First Amendment right is God given...."

"We gotta get our people back to work [or] you’re gonna have a riot in this country."

"People in El Paso County are losing their jobs, their life savings in the name of public health. People are going bankrupt in the name of public health. People are facing financial ruin …suicide, all in the name of public health. This isn’t worth it folks. You’re Republican. You should stand up for liberty instead of allowing the governor to turn our state into California."

"Stop pandering to the local health department."

"Why not at some point tell county health to stand down? That’s how we regain confidence in our county officials who say they think businesses have a right to open and you respect our liberties."

For hours, people espoused those sentiments and found some sympathy from commissioners.

Commissioner VanderWerf: Working to lay the groundwork to reopen businesses. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Commissioner VanderWerf: Working to lay the groundwork to reopen businesses.
Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, who's heading a committee of business people and public officials planning how to reopen commerce, said he agreed that people shouldn't feel compelled to cooperate with health authorities who are trying to contact trace the spread of the virus, for which there is no treatment, cure or vaccine.

"If a public agency does ask you to do a contact tracing, you can refuse, and I believe you’re within your rights to refuse," he said. But he added he would encourage people to cooperate. VanderWerf also said he thought Polis' Stay at Home order "was a mistake."

"I’m really bothered when a public agency decides what’s considered to be essential and what’s considered not to be essential," VanderWerf said. "To a business owner, it’s essential because it puts food on the table."

VanderWerf also said he does not support mandatory testing or mandatory contact tracing, which some speakers believe is on the verge of becoming the law of the land. They based that mistaken belief on the May 1 introduction of House Resolution 6666 by a collection of representatives, including Diane DeGette, D-Colorado. The bill, which would carry a price tag of $100 billion, is designed:
To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, and related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.
Note the bill would set up a grant fund for which agencies could apply for funding for these activities. But those who complained to commissioners mistook the measure for mandatory testing under threat of removing government support or taking children from their homes.

One woman said wearing a mask does not protect other people from a diseased person, saying immunologists had said so.

Asked about that by the Indy, Phoebe Lostroh, a Colorado College professor who holds a doctoral degree from Harvard and is working with public health officials on types of testing, disputed that.

"Wearing homemade face coverings over the mouth and nose significantly protects others," she says via email. "If you believe Unacast data about social mixing, which uses cell phone data, we are now at pre-epidemic levels of encounters. This is googleable. The reproduction number of a virus depends a lot on how much social distancing there is. So, mixing while wearing masks, if we must mix, is really, really important."

We also asked Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly about the face mask allegation and contact tracing. He responded via email:
Yes, there is growing scientific evidence (experimental and observational) that masks do indeed reduce the number of viral particles released into the air and thus the infectivity. However, using masks is not a substitute for all the other measures in place including social distancing and can be a problem if not used properly or are fidgeted with without hand washing.

While there is no law mandating an infected individual cooperate with our contact tracing investigation and they are free to participate or not, there certainly is a moral obligation to do so. A COVID-19 infected person can provide information that’s essentially anonymous and has proven again and again to help save lives, particularly of their family, friends, neighbors, and community. It’s the most valuable tool we have to allow us to continue to open our community and economy while keeping us safe.

Fortunately the overwhelming majority of our community cares about helping others and doing their part to move us forward so we have not a significant amount of individuals not wanting to cooperate.

Meanwhile, Polis headed for Washington, D.C., to meet with President Trump in an effort to secure more funding for the state's response to COVID-19.

As of May 11, the state had logged 20,157 positive cases, 3,695 hospitalizations and 1,009 deaths. (El Paso County reports 1,151 cases, 221 hospitalizations and 80 deaths.)

Polis joined governors and legislative leaders from five western states — Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California — to request Congress allocate $1 trillion in "direct and flexible relief to states and local governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to preserve core government services like public health, public safety and public education, and help people get back to work," according to a release.

Also on May 12, House Democrats proposed what The Washington Post called a "sprawling coronavirus rescue bill" that would funnel more than $3 trillion to state and local governments, health systems, a second round of relief checks and other things, including funding for the U.S. Postal Service. But Republicans are sure to block the bill, the Post reported.

In other news:
UCHealth Memorial issued a release saying convalescent plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19 is being used to treat hospitalized patients in Colorado Springs.
From the release:
UCHealth Memorial is now part of an FDA-regulated “expanded access treatment protocol,” which allows for the use of investigational treatments and provides broader access to convalescent plasma for sick patients.

As of May 12, a dozen patients at Memorial had received the plasma. The first doses went to patients on April 22, with the most recent infusion being done on Saturday, May 9.

Dr. Carl Bernas, an infectious disease specialist in Colorado Springs, is the principal investigator for the treatment protocol at UCHealth Memorial. Bernas said there are currently no study results that definitively show the plasma is a proven treatment, but “we are getting some anecdotal evidence that it's been associated with clinical improvements in some of the patients that we've already transfused it to.” ...

Bernas said it appears people who receive the donated plasma early on in their illness tend to recover faster. The plasma contains antibodies that work to diminish the viral load in a sick patient; in essence, it’s someone else’s immune response working to benefit someone who is ill....
People interested in learning more about the donation process can click here.

Peak Vista received $1.5 million as part of $11.7 million given to Colorado by the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities.

Colorado Springs' sales and use tax revenues collected in March and paid to the city in April plunged by 14 percent, or about $2.3 million. Mayor John Suthers has said he expects April collections to be even lower, because the stay-home order spanned only half of March but all of April, closing many retail establishments, including restaurants and bars.

Gov. Polis announced on May 11 that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) determined that C&C Coffee and Kitchen in Castle Rock, which opened to throngs of people on Mother's Day, most not wearing masks, "is causing an imminent health hazard." CDPHE used its authority under the Colorado Food Protection Act to suspend the eatery's business license indefinitely until it can be established that there is no longer a threat to public health.

Polis also said starting May 12, people can start booking campsites in state parks, but social distancing and sanitation guidelines must be observed. He also set out this timeline for making decisions on opening the state, which is now under a safer-at-home order:

May 25 — whether ski resorts can be open for Spring skiing. Resorts will only open if the host county wants them open.
May 25 — if restaurants can begin reopening and at what level.
May 25 — if summer residential and day camps can open in June, and if so, under what conditions.
After June 1 — whether the Safer at Home order can be further modified to phase in summer activities and public spaces like libraries. The Governor will make these decisions on a rolling basis, based on the latest data and evidence.

Pikes Peak Library District will begin curbside service May 13. Libraries will remain closed but the new service allows patrons to return materials and pick up items without having direct contact with staff or other patrons.
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Friday, May 8, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 8: Reservations for late May?

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2020 at 6:02 PM

  • Jared Polis

Colorado restaurants could expect to reopen by late May or early June, Gov. Jared Polis suggested at a virtual news conference May 8, as long as forthcoming data regarding the first three weeks of the safer-at-home phase supports loosening restrictions.

"That'll all be decided based on data that we don't have yet — we don't have a crystal ball — and we'll see where that data emerges," Polis said. "I certainly hope that it's prior to June 15."

Polis also said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is likely to approve El Paso County's waiver request to hold modified high school graduation ceremonies, saying the proposal detailed "innovative and thoughtful ways for high school seniors to recognize their rite of passage in a safe way."

The proposal, advanced May 7 by the Board of El Paso County Commissioners, requires each school to submit a plan to El Paso County Public Health detailing how its graduation would be carried out while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Some of the rules would include outdoor ceremonies, minimizing staff on hand, keeping those in attendance 6 feet apart and accommodating a "no-contact procedure for receipt of the diploma."

As of 4 p.m. May 8, the CDPHE was reporting 18,371 cases of COVID-19, 3,600 hospitalizations, and 960 deaths. That data is current through May 7.

El Paso County has had 1,110 cases, 218 hospitalizations and 78 deaths, according to the county health department's data dashboard. Twenty-three new cases were reported in the county May 7, a slight increase over the previous day.

The Colorado Mask Project has created more than 82,000 non-medical cloth masks for 160 organizations such as homeless shelters and assisted living centers, Polis said, calling the website a "great collaboration" between the state government, nonprofits and the private sector.

You can visit for instructions on how to make a cloth mask, volunteer for the project, buy a mask or request some for your group.

Some areas of the state, including Denver and Boulder, are requiring people to wear face coverings when they leave the house. Those who don't could face fines.

El Paso County Public Health and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers are encouraging the wearing of masks, but neither has issued a mandate.

"For anybody who wants to — and I certainly do — reopen parts of our economy and society sooner rather than later, mask-wearing is extremely important," Polis said May 8.

Manitou Springs announced a new program to implement "Social Distancing Ambassadors" in the city's parks and at the Manitou Incline. The ambassadors won't have enforcement capacity; rather, they are city staff members who will encourage people to stay 6 feet apart and avoid playgrounds, and remind them of the Incline's ongoing closure.

The ambassadors will also assist in park clean-up, replace caution tape and notify the city's Public Works Department of parks issues.

Colorado Springs has not announced such a program. However, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Karen Palus says the city may use some coronavirus-relief funding for hiring staff to help manage crowds and encourage social distancing at Garden of the Gods Park.

A group of 66 city and county leaders from across Colorado signed a letter to Congress asking that full and permanent funding for the 55-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund be included in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

The fund buys and reserves land, water and recreation areas across the country with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

"In the weeks and months to come, our nation’s parks, trails, and outdoor spaces will be integral to our nation's coping and recovery," the letter says. "...America’s public lands bring us peace of mind and generate economic revenue - both will be critically needed to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak."

Last year, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed legislation to reauthorize the fund. However, legislators have not appropriated the full amount of available money deposited in the fund for land, water and recreation, instead diverting it for other purposes.

To give reporters at the Indy and Colorado Springs Business Journal more time to work on other projects, we'll be publishing these COVID-19 roundups less frequently. Look for them Tuesdays and Thursdays at or

You can also sign up for the Indy's emailed newsletters, and check the "Latest News Stories" box to receive our COVID-19 updates in your inbox.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 6: Two months into Colorado's COVID-19 crisis

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2020 at 5:47 PM

  • Andrii Vodolazhskyi/
At a news conference May 6, Gov. Jared Polis noted that it had been two months since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was diagnosed in Colorado.

"It is now found to be extremely likely that the virus was circulating in Colorado, unbeknownst to us, before that first case was diagnosed," Polis added, suggesting that could have been "in January or in February." That's true for states across the country, he said.

Polis reiterated that the state has so far succeeded in "flattening the curve" and slowing the spread of the virus without overwhelming the health care system. Still, he said, Coloradans should only be having a third (or less) of the interactions with other people that they were having in January.

As of 4 p.m. on May 6, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 17,830 cases of COVID-19 statewide, including 1,055 in El Paso County.

There have been 921 deaths statewide and 77 in El Paso County, and 2,986 people hospitalized statewide. All of that data is current through May 5.

Colorado's Unified Command Center launched the Residential Care Task Force, which will aim to "reduce the spread of illness and number of deaths" in settings such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Older adults and people with disabilities who lived in such settings account for more than 50 percent of Colorado's deaths related to COVID-19, the command center noted in a statement.

The task force has already tested nearly 1,900 asymptomatic staff and residents at six nursing facilities and a veterans' home in Colorado, and is working on a contract with Colorado State University to expand testing to thousands of staff members per week for eight weeks, the statement says.

As of May 6, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 170 outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term facilities in the state. El Paso County has six active outbreaks, the biggest of which is at Winslow Court Retirement Community. There, 28 residents and 12 staff members are believed to have COVID-19, and 11 residents have died.

You can view the state's detailed outbreak data, which is updated each Wednesday, online.

Colorado received approval for a $7.9 million emergency funding request from the federal Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services, to support the state's Office of eHealth Innovation and Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

“This funding will go toward innovations that include telemedicine and telemonitoring," Polis said in a statement. "This technology will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and provide Coloradans an effective and safe alternative to in-person care.”

To learn more about free, insurance-based and fee-based telehealth options, you can look through a directory on the state's website.

The following COVID-19 testing sites are currently operating in El Paso County:

• UCHealth testing tent (Colorado Springs): 175 S. Union Blvd., Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

• Peak Vista testing site (Colorado Springs): 3205 North Academy Blvd., Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

• Centura Health testing center (Monument): 17230 Jackson Creek Pkwy., Suite 120, Monday – Friday,  10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

• Children’s Hospital Colorado testing site (Colorado Springs): 4125 Briargate Parkway (parking lot of Briargate Outpatient and Specialty Care), seven days a week, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m

• Kaiser Permanente/CDPHE sites: For location info, call 303-692-2700. Only for symptomatic first responders and health care workers.

People providing regular care for children of family members, friends or neighbors can access free, personalized virtual support and early learning resources through Alliance for Kids, El Paso County's Early Childhood Council.

To learn more, contact Erika Cincotta, Alliance for Kids' early learning and literacy specialist, at 719-466-9562 or

The Pikes Peak Library District also offers virtual programming for kids, teens and adults. For example, students in grades K-12 across El Paso County can submit images of their artwork for a virtual art show through May 31. Or, try the library district's weekly digital escape rooms.

Starting May 6, the city and county of Denver (and Denver International Airport) are requiring people to wear face coverings when inside of, or waiting in line to enter, all businesses, government facilities, health care locations and public transportation.

Beginning May 9, the following types of businesses will gradually begin to reopen in Denver:

• Non-critical retail such as clothing, home goods and cell phone stores (with 50 percent of employees)
• Personal services such as hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, pet groomers and personal trainers (with 10 or fewer people in a single location)
• Non-critical offices (with 50 percent of employees)
• Field services, such as in-person real estate showings
• Limited health care (with 10 or fewer people in a single location)
• Postsecondary education

Public and private gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited, as with the rest of the state.

Visit Denver's website for more information on guidelines.

One Nation Walking Together, a Springs-based nonprofit that supports Native American communities, is asking the community for assistance collecting supplies.

The nonprofit will distribute items to people living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, as well as the Navajo Nation, an area covering parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

"Navajo Nation is the size of West Virginia yet has only 13 grocery stores to service the people living there," the nonprofit said in a statement, adding that many people do not have running water or electricity in their homes.

The following items can be dropped off at 3150 N. Nevada Ave. on May 7 or May 9, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.:

• Masks (disposable and fabric)
• Latex gloves
• Thermometers
• Finger pulse oximeters
• Nonperishable food and water
• Baby food and formula
• Hygiene items/toiletries
• Pet food
• Quarter-inch elastic
• 100 percent cotton and flannel fabric
• Polypropylene
• Thread and needles
• Cleaning supplies
• Liquid hand soap
• Hand sanitizer

On May 11, a semi-truck loaded with supplies will leave for Rosebud, South Dakota, and on May 18, a rented box truck will depart for the Navajo Nation.
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Monday, May 4, 2020

What can sewage reveal about COVID-19? Research is underway.

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 4:00 PM

The phrase "down the toilet" usually means it's a big waste and gone forever.

But Colorado Springs Utilities is among hundreds of utilities across the country participating in research to find out what wastewater can tell us about the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

As CNN reports, several efforts are under way to "flush out hidden cases of the virus by examining sewage."

While El Paso County Public Health isn't involved, Springs Utilities definitely is gathering samples.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who's serving as a deputy Public Health director during the pandemic, says he checked on the project with Dr. James Terbush, member of the health board, who "indicated it could be a good way to qualitatively identify hot spots over the long haul as our cases come and go in the future if the work pans out."

Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry says via email that the agency's lab started collecting samples on May 1 but details are sketchy.

"I did confirm that we were not asked by the County or CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment]," he says. "We participated in this nationwide research effort voluntarily and as noted in the CNN article.... We don’t know when the results will come back. We’re shipping the samples (collected throughout May) to the same company [Biobot] mentioned in the CNN article."

Berry says Utilities will pay $960 to have its samples analyzed. Results will be shared with the industry, with Utilities and local health officials, he says.

"They did not provide timing of when this would be complete and/or released," he says, noting the city's lab isn't capable of conducting the testing involved in the study.

"I do not know how the data will ultimately be used by researchers or local health officials," Berry adds.
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