Coronavirus in Boulder County: No confirmed cases; officials urge calm, caution

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Saturday, March 7, 2020

As Colorado grapples with its first confirmed cases of coronavirus, the outbreak has yet to reach Boulder County. A half-dozen people have been tested for possible exposure, but there have been no confirmed cases as of Saturday morning, officials said while urging the public to remain calm but cautions.

Two University of Colorado-Boulder employees were tested for COVID-19, the Daily Camera reported late Thursday. One tested negative by that evening; the other was cleared the next day, according to an update from the university.

A substitute teacher at Lafayette’s Centaurus High School was also self-quarantining after being informed Wednesday that he was on a cruise with affected persons in mid-February, the Daily Camera reported. The teacher did not attend school for the rest of the week and was asymptomatic for 12 days.

Only those who exhibit symptoms are eligible for testing; otherwise, the protocol is to be isolated for two weeks. That quarantine period ended Friday.

Boulder County public health officials visited city council on Tuesday to share preparations for a local outbreak of coronavirus. At that point, four people in the county had been tested, they said, all negative.

The county is “no longer getting reports back” on negative test results, Boulder County Public Health spokeswoman Chana Goussetis said Saturday. “It’s staying with the state health department. … We’re really only getting notified of any positives.”

As of Saturday morning, there had not been any positive test results for Boulder County residents. Colorado has eight confirmed cases with a further 69 pending test results, according to a daily update provided by the state health department.

Boulder County recently reviewed its pandemic response, Emergency Preparedness Program Coordinator Lisa Widdekind said at Tuesday’s city council meeting, “so we’re in good shape.” Communication and isolation plans are in place, Widdekind said, including support for those who may have to be quarantined.

“We recognize that people in quarantine are stepping up for their community, and we do the same for them,” Widdekind said: making sure they get groceries, have childcare, and securing adequate financial support for work missed during the isolation period. “Anything they might need in quarantine, we make sure they get.”

The Office of Emergency Management has also mobilized, Director Mike Chard said. Agencies across the county, including CU, are coordinating. Spanish-language communications have been prepared. Boulder OEM is looking at the city’s internal operations to make sure “critical” services can still be provided in the event of staff shortages due to the virus’ spread.

A resident, speaking during open comment, raised the question of response among the homeless. Unhoused residents have no legal place to shower, Mike Homner said, and they sleep “en masse” in shelters, making them vulnerable to exposure.

“I just want you guys not to lose site … of those who are marginalized as it is,” Homner said.

City Manager Jane Brautigam thanked Homner for his attention to the issue and assured council that it was being considered.

Boulder’s elected officials held a brief, informal discussion Thursday evening after board and commission interviews about how to follow best practices — some experts are recommending against public gatherings — while not sparking panic in the community. Several council members were planning to fly to Washington, D.C. this weekend for the National League of Cities conference.

There is no provision in the city charter for virtual council member participation in meetings, though the code does allow for off-site meetings in emergencies, City Attorney Tom Carr said Tuesday. Council discussed possible ways of carrying on government business in the event of an outbreak. No definitive solutions emerged.

Pandemic fears have swept the country since the first confirmed U.S. case earlier this year, emptying store shelves and cancelling events. The World Health Organization is issuing daily reports on the situation.

WHO’s Saturday morning report included 213 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in the United States. The New York Times reported more than 310 confirmed cases and 17 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control’s daily report — which is updated only Mondays through Fridays — said there had been 164 confirmed cases and 11 deaths as of Friday at 4 p.m.

It’s hard to know exactly what the mortality rate is because some countries — like the U.S. — are under-testing and therefore under-reporting cases, as Pro Publica health reporter Caroline Chen explained in a helpful how-to for journalists covering the crisis

Using the best available data, fatalities from COVID-19 seem to be hovering between 1% and 10%, Chen wrote: worse than yearly influenza but less than SARS. The elderly, those with compromised immune systems and smokers appear to be more at risk of developing serious illness after contracting coronavirus.

Carol Helwig, program coordinator for the communicable diseases program in the Boulder County Department of Public Health, recommended that residents follow standard hygiene protocol: wash your hands, cover your face when you sneeze, sanitize frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, work from home if possible.

People should also get flu shots, Helwig said, not because it will prevent the contraction of COVID — it won’t — “but it will prevent you from potentially getting the flu. We really want to reduce the impact of respiratory illness in our health system.”

Mayor Sam Weaver late Friday posted a public email with a list of resources for concerned residents. City staff continues to work with county agencies to remain prepared should the virus reach Boulder, he wrote.

Resources:

www.BoCo.org/COVID-19

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment

Centers for Disease Control

World Health Organization

Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish

Read a Twitter thread of the coronavirus discussion here.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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