First two COVID-19 cases confirmed in Arapahoe County; governor declares state of emergency for Colorado

At least 17 in the state have tested likely positive for coronavirus

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Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus, as the number of cases in Colorado grew to at least 15. Another two cases were announced later in the day.

“Our administration's response will be guided by the science and lessons learned from the countries and states that this virus arrived in first,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “We will continue to be proactive and working around the clock to protect public health and safety with an eye towards preventing the need for more drastic measures that result in social disruption.” 

Polis' announcement March 10 came as Arapahoe County saw its first two cases announced that morning and the previous night. One is a man in his 50s, and the other is a woman in her 30s.

The woman recently returned from travel to India and lives in the Centennial area, according to the Tri-County Health Department, which oversees Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. The man has a recent history of travel in the United States and is currently in a hospital, in isolation with serious symptoms, according to Tri-County. He is unrelated to the woman's case.

“Our thoughts are with the patient and his family during this time,” John Douglas, Tri-County's executive director, in a March 10 news release. “As per standard procedures, our disease control experts are making sure his contacts are identified and quarantined if exposure is thought to be substantial."

Tri-County and Buckley Air Force Base are investigating other people who have come in contact with the Centennial-area woman, including family members who were on the base, according to the release. All members of the family are isolated at home.

Generally, cases are being referred to as “presumptive positive” because initial testing is done at the state level, and results will be confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Along with the middle-aged man in Arapahoe County, an Eagle County man in his 30s and a woman in her 40s from Denver County who has ties to Gunnison County were announced as testing positive the morning of March 10. Previously announced cases included three in Denver, three in Douglas County, another two in Eagle County, one in El Paso County, one in Larimer County and one in Summit County, who is currently isolated in Adams County.

There is also one “indeterminate case” in Denver, according to the Department of Public Health and Environment.

The state announced the first case of COVID-19 in a Jefferson County resident the evening of March 10, a man in his 50s who is isolated in a medical facility and is in stable condition, according to Jefferson County Public Health.

A female teenager in Denver also tested positive, the state announced that evening.

The World Health Organization — the United Nations' health agency — on March 11 classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, which means an outbreak of illness with sustained transmission, or spread, on more than one continent.

Emergency powers

The emergency declaration gives Polis broad temporary powers, and he is acting to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus, said Conor Cahill, the governor's press secretary.

Polis directed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to make emergency rules to ensure workers in food-handling, hospitality, child care, health care and education receive paid sick leave if they exhibit flu-like symptoms and have to miss work awaiting testing results for COVID-19, according to a governor's office news release.

For workers who test positive and lack access to paid leave, Polis directed the Labor Department to identify other support, such as access to unemployment insurance. 

That's an especially important step for those who work with older people and those with underlying health issues, who are all considered vulnerable populations amid the spread of COVID-19, according to the state.

"When those workers lack access to paid sick leave, it poses a great risk to our ability to protect the public," the governor's office said in a release.

Polis also directed the Colorado Department of Revenue to temporarily allow those over the age of 65 to extend their driver's licenses online to avoid having to gather at DMVs.

The declaration also allows Colorado to request more federal funding to respond to COVID-19.

Local government agencies are taking precautions as well, such as school districts, which are bolstering their cleaning practices. The Regional Transportation District is purchasing additional sanitation products and disinfectants, including hand sanitizer, gloves and sanitation wipes for frontline employees, RTD said in a news release.

Public gatherings may be closed as well as the virus continues to spread. In a Facebook post March 10, officials with the Denver St. Patrick's Day Parade announced the decision — in collaboration with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock — to cancel the March 14 parade, citing COVID-19 concerns.

The University of Colorado Boulder announced it would transition to online classes for the rest of the semester, starting March 16, due to COVID-19 concerns.

Testing capabilities grow

Update: The state's drive-up lab has moved and will continue to move through the state. Private labs can perform the test too. See details here.

In the days after March 10, the Colorado Department of Public Health was set to open a drive-up lab at its facility in east Denver to test those who have a doctor's note stating that they meet the criteria for testing. That facility is located at 8100 E. Lowry Blvd.

The lab was open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays in its first week. Call the public health department at 303-692-2000 or email cdphe.information@state.co.us for the current hours.

To be tested there for COVID-19, people must meet one of seven criteria:

• Having fever or signs of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, and having close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of showing symptoms, or:

• Having fever or signs of lower respiratory illness without a diagnosis that could explain them, such as influenza, and having a history of travel to areas with ongoing community spread of COVID-19 within 14 days of showing symptoms, or:

• Any person who is hospitalized and also has fever or signs of lower respiratory illness without a diagnosis that could explain it, or:

• Anyone who lives in a residential facility such as a nursing home and also has fever or signs of lower respiratory illness without a diagnosis that could explain it, or:

• Any health care worker, clinical laboratory worker or first responder who has new onset of symptoms within 14 days of having direct contact with patients who have signs of respiratory illness or their clinical specimens; and also has fever or signs of lower respiratory illness without a diagnosis that could explain it, or;

• Anyone who is at risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, including adults 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions or who are receiving immunosuppressive medications; and also has fever or signs of a lower respiratory illness without a diagnosis that could explain it, or;

• Any person in a group with multiple individuals with symptoms that is being investigated by public health officials; and also has fever or signs of lower respiratory illness.

People who do not meet the state's testing criteria can be tested at LabCorp and other commercial labs that will conduct COVID-19 testing.

Testing can cost

Polis also instructed the Colorado Division of Insurance to ensure that costs don’t prevent people from getting tested, according to a March 9 news release.

Coloradans enrolled in self-funded employer-based health insurance — which is regulated at the federal level rather than the state — should contact their employer about coverage.

If a person’s insurance card reads “CO-DOI” in the bottom corner, their plan is regulated by the state.

The federal government recently announced that testing for COVID-19 is an “essential health benefit,” meaning that Colorado is able to require the insurance companies it regulates to cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing, according to the release. That means consumers will not have to pay co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance, under state-regulated plans.

Those insurance companies also will be directed to waive any cost-sharing for visits to in-network health care provider offices, in-network urgent care centers or an emergency room when a covered person is seeking COVID-19 testing. If an in-network provider cannot do the test, insurance companies must cover an out-of-network provider for the testing.

Insurance companies also are directed to provide COVID-19-related telehealth — or telemedicine — services with no cost-sharing, including co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance that would normally apply to a telehealth visit.

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