Coronavirus in Boulder County: Officials urge public not to panic — just stay away from other people

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Friday, March 13, 2020 (Updated March 14)

The first case of coronavirus with a Boulder County connection was confirmed this week when a University of Colorado employee tested positive. Local leaders are cautioning the public against overreaction, such as the “panic buying” of groceries and other supplies, and stressing the need to practice social distancing as Colorado saw its first death from the outbreak and the number of infected residents rose to more than 75.

Boulder County still doesn’t have an official case, as the university worker lives elsewhere. But public health officials held a public briefing Friday morning following the Thursday announcement from CU.

We believe the virus is already circulating in our community,” said Jeffrey J. Zayach, executive director of Boulder County Public Health.

Spread + shortages

Officials did not say how many people might have had contact with the CU employee; university communications said the unnamed individual worked on campus for four hours Monday morning “in limited areas of the Center for Community,” Denver Post reported.

“At this point, our team and staff are out there investigating,” said Chris Urbina, BCPH medical officer. “That’s part of our process, to discover where they were, where they worked, to identify who they had close contact with.”

Those who did not interact with the individual — “people walking in hallways” of the C4C, for instance, or who did not get within six feet of the employee — “would be low risk,” Urbina said.

As with the rest of the country, Boulder County has struggled to receive testing kits. Urbina did not provide an explicit answer to a question about supply: “It is not a significant number,” he said, later revealing that there were not enough kits available to test all those who came in contact with the CU worker.

The supply of test kits should “ramp up” in the next one to two weeks, Urbina said.

States of emergency

Colorado has tested more than 1,500 people, Governor Jared Polis said during a Friday public address, a rate exceeding the national average but still “woefully inadequate.” A state of emergency has been declared for Colorado as well as Denver, in addition to the national state of emergency.

Boulder has yet to make that call but will discuss the possibility at Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Sam Weaver said Friday. A declaration won’t give the city much additional power, as it does to the state — for instance, to mobilize the National Guard, as Polis did to manage the drive-thru testing center.

But it would allow Boulder to recoup spending on disaster response from the federal government, as it did for the 2013 floods. Weaver said the city is preparing for that now by tracking costs.

Keep your distance

In addition to previous recommendations on hygiene, Boulder County health officials emphasized the importance of practicing social distancing: Don’t gather in large crowds, and maintain more than six feet of distance from other people when out in public.

Although 80% of coronavirus cases result in mild illness, Urbina said, “we need to protect our most vulnerable.” That includes not hoarding groceries and medical supplies, Zayach added, which “depletes resources other people need as well.”

Experts have recommended having two weeks of food — for people and pets — and water on-hand. Residents have emptied shelves of non-perishables, medicine, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, even though health officials issue continual reminders that the latter is unnecessary if you have access to soap and water.

Shortages are temporary, as retailers reminded Denver Post readers Friday: Stores will be restocked in short order.

“We don’t need to go into panic mode,” Zayach said. “We will get past this virus spread point and things will start to get normal again.”

A roundup of other relevant information:

City meetings / services

City board and commission meetings have been cancelled through March 29. Council was set to appoint new members Tuesday. A meeting is still scheduled so that council can vote on an emergency ordinance allowing virtual participation by city leaders; what other business will be conducted is to be determined at a Monday agenda meeting.

The Colorado legislature suspended its session for two weeks, beginning Saturday.

All city of Boulder libraries, recreation centers and senior centers are closed through March 29 as well. The city has suspended all but public safety-related travel for employees through May 31. Staff is working remotely; child care is being provided for workers who have to be on-site, along with 80 hours of sick leave for anyone who falls ill.

Schools

Boulder Valley and Saint Vrain Valley schools cancelled classes for two weeks, at the urging of county health officials. Superintendents from both districts on Friday said they would consult public health leaders in decisions about when to resume operations.

Don Haddad, SVVSD superintendent, said the district would “continue to provide opportunities for students to access food” while schools are closed. BVSD’s Rob Anderson said the district would share information on its plan Monday.

“This is one of our biggest worries,” Anderson said. “(We) want to make sure we’re supporting all our families.”

Area residents have begun coordinating childcare among themselves, and some daycare operations are offering reduced rates. A Facebook group, Boulder County Childcare Support for COVID-19 Closures, has been set up to connect parents with resources.

CU moved classes online for the rest of the semester and cancelled classes Friday. But the campus — dorms, dining halls, rec centers, etc. — will remain open, officials said.

Work / business

Boulder County health officials on Friday did not advocate for business closures, but urged employers to allow remote work whenever possible. Workplace sanitation also needs to be stepped up, Urbina recommended

Businesses are responding to the outbreak in different ways. Louisville’s Bittersweet Cafe & Confections is increasing the distance between seating, it announced in an email to customers. Outdoor retail Patagonia shuttered stores nationwide — including Boulder’s Pearl Street shop — and shut down its website to orders. The California-based company will continue paying employees, it said, and reassess in two weeks.

An emergency ordinance announced by Polis on Tuesday would provide four days of paid sick leave to hospitality and service workers, roughly 15% of the state workforce.

Across the country, workers in low-wage jobs — without paid sick leave, vacation days or the ability to work from home — are struggling with child care, food, rent and utility payments in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2017, 9% of families with children were living below the poverty line in Boulder County, according to Community Foundation’s recent TRENDS report. (Disclosure: The author of this article was paid by Community Foundation to gather data and write portions of the TRENDS report.)

Community Foundation on Friday announced that it had set up a coronavirus-specific fund for nonprofits providing “access to care, food, hygiene, shelter housing and other services for the most vulnerable. For more information on the fund, or to make a donation, click here.

Additional resources

Watch the county’s briefing here.

For information about actions and recommendations for Boulder County:

Find more information, guidance and up-to-date case counts at:

News

Boulder Beat contributes coronavirus coverage as it can, but is providing nowhere near the level of breaking news needed in this situation. For the latest local updates, visit the Daily Camera, which has removed coronavirus coverage from its paywall.

For statewide/regional coverage, see the Denver Post, Colorado Sun, or CPR

Author’s note: This story may be updated further as additional information becomes available.

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

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5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Shay do you have info on San Miguel county which was funded to test COVID on all it’s residents regardless of symptoms or exposure? Funded by a biotech with connections to Telluride. This noted on KGNU today.
    Lynn 303-447-3216

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