Boulder County COVID cases rise from 7 to 36 in one week

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Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Monday, March 16, 2020 (Updated Saturday, March 21)

A prediction from Boulder County’s top health official about the rapid spread of COVID-19 is proving true as cases climbed to double digits. It’s a marked increase locally, where the first residents tested positive less than one week ago.

Jeff Zayach, executive director of Boulder County Public Health, during a Monday emergency meeting of Boulder city council, warned that, despite the single-digit case count, the virus was already circulating in the community. He warned leaders to expect spread akin to what was being seen in Colorado’s high country.

“We expect that fully to come to us” by the end of the week, Zayach said.

And come it did. Eagle and Pitkin counties had 35 cases as of last Sunday, according to the Denver Post. As of Saturday evening, Boulder County had 36 confirmed cases of coronavirus, Daily Camera reported.

Zayach also said at the Monday meeting that the actual count is likely 50 times reported cases. The number of positive cases doesn’t “matter much” because of how inadequate testing has been, he said.

“The best modeling we’ve looked at and best predictions are that if you have a case, you can multiply that case by 50 times and that’s probably the number of cases you actually have.”

Cases initially linked to ski, travel

The first seven cases all came over last weekend , with eight more as of Thursday and  huge jumps on Friday and Saturday: Friday morning, it was 19 — eight more were added to the list throughout the day, as the Daily Camera reported; nine more followed Saturday.

Fifteen people have recovered, health officials told the Daily Camera. Details on newly infected persons will likely be lacking as the numbers grow,

Some of the newly infected persons had not traveled outside Boulder County, indicating the virus is now spreading within the community. Officials blamed parties on University Hill parties held over St. Patrick’s Day weekend for some of the spread.

Officials last week said four cases were linked to ski areas as well as national and international travel. The National Guard arrived in Telluride on Sunday evening to help administer tests, the Denver Post reported. Colorado health officials urged anyone who had visited Eagle, Summit, Pitkin or Gunnison counties in the past week to minimize contact as much as possible.

Government orders biz closures but worry about impacts

Governor Jared Polis this week ordered bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and casinos to close through April 30, with orders to shut nail and hair salons, spas, massage parlors and tattoo shops following. Shelter-in-place orders — already in effect in California, New York, Illinois, covering one-quarter of the U.S. population, and Colorado’s San Miguel County — may follow.

Polis did not directly answer a question about the possibility of such orders during a Friday briefing, one of many he’s held since the start of the pandemic. He did say that if that step was taken, schools would continue to distribute food to students.

Employees affected by the shutdown can apply for benefits at myui.coworkforce.com. Expect more updates/announcements directly related to coronavirus closures.

Boulder city council followed Polis’ lead with an identical measure that similarly allows restaurant to provide take-out or delivery. Having local ordinances will make it easier to enforce, City Manager Jane Brautigam said.

Boulder banned gatherings of more than 20 people on public property but later lowered that to 10 persons, per a recommendation from Zayach. City facilities — rec centers, libraries, senior centers — have been closed through April 19.

Council may also revisit business restrictions. The Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee is working to define essential and non-essential businesses, Colorado Sun reported, potential paving the way for additional closures.

Council members were wary of expanding business closures beyond state mandates due to the economic impacts. Already, Brautigam warned of long-term implications for Boulder’s discretionary budget, 48% of which is funded by sales tax.

“This is a vicious cycle that’s going to be hard to move out of,” she said. However, the city’s reserves have been bolstered in recent years, at Brautigam’s urging. “We feel very confident we’ve done a good job in financial planning.”

Sales tax is being collected from Amazon and other large online retailers, Brautigam said.

County health officials have recommended not going out in public except for necessities such as groceries and medicine. There was some discussion among council members about further restrictions on residents’ movement.

Should we do a shelter-in-place order? asked councilman Mark Wallach.

“I would not recommend that we do that at this point,” Zayach said.”We know there are impacts to residents when we do that.” 

The best course for now, according to Zayach, is to see how well current measures curtail the virus’ spread.

Local hospitals prepared

“Anything we can do right now, very aggressively, to mitigate the spread and flatten the curve … even if it doesn’t reduce overall cases but spreads it over weeks and months, we’re much better prepared,” said Robert Vissers, CEO of Boulder Community Health. 

Vissers said BCH’s capacity was “good” for the moment. The nonprofit has freed up beds and providers by cancelling non-essential surgeries and procedures. It has overflow plans in place and is prepared to begin treating COVID patients.

The local health care system is still in good shape when it comes to protective gear for workers, Daily Camera reported Friday, though officials noted that could change if the number of infected residents requiring hospitalization rises quickly. Donation of gowns, masks and gloves are being accepted at BCH’s Foothills campus

How to donate protective gear

Sealed/unopened boxes of masks, gloves or other personal protective equipment are being accepted. Donations can be brought  to the main entrance of Foothills Hospital (not the Emergency Department entrance). Place donations in the blue bin. Donations are accepted Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. BCH appreciates the public’s generosity.

Source: Daily Camera

“Although the scale is potentially unprecedented, the disease is not unique,” Vissers said. “We can do the care (but) 100%” of mitigation lies with the community. “The sooner we can act, the flatter that curve will be” and better position we’ll be in.

City council prepared to meet, virtually

The March 17 Boulder city council meeting was cancelled. Two additional meetings were scheduled, according to a mid-week newsletter from councilman Bob Yates: March 24 — originally supposed to be spring break — and March 31, the fifth Tuesday of the month, on which meetings are never scheduled.

Council will meet virtually, now permitted after an emergency ordinance was passed unanimously Monday by the seven members physically present in chambers, along with select staff. The public was barred from the meeting space.

Mayor Sam Weaver and councilwoman Rachel Friend called into the meeting immediately after passage of the remote participation measure. They and other council members had a laundry list of things to consider in light of coronavirus, including a moratorium on evictions during the outbreak.

Read a play-by-play of Monday’s discussion.

Eviction questions looms

Governor Polis on Friday said not state resources would be used to carry out evictions. He encouraged local governments — where evictions are enforced — to adopt similar measures.

Boulder’s leaders seemed more in favor of beefing up resources for rental assistance to prevent evictions. The city already provides help to families through Emergency Family Assistance Association and started assisting individuals in mid-2019.

(Disclosure: The author works for EFAA as a paid consultant. After this article was written, EFAA wrote city council to request a three-month eviction moratorium in Boulder along with additional rental assistance funds.)

Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Antonio and the State of New York all suspended evictions, for fear that out-of-work tenants will not be able to make rent payments. President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a timeout from evictions for tenants of public housing, through April. Homeowners with federally backed mortgages also will not face foreclosure for nonpayment during that time.

The federal measure does not protect everyone. Housing voucher recipients, for one, are still subject to eviction, as are those living in units not operated by HUD — more than 80 million renters across the U.S., Business Insider reported.

There was some discussion about whether or not local courts are handling eviction cases, having shut down all non-essential operations. Todd Ulrich, president of landlord group Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, said the group is waiting for clarification from the court but is operating under the assumption that “evictions are off the table for awhile.”

BARHA has been encouraging its members, who represent 14,000 housing units, to work with tenants, creating an affadavit-style document renters can use to certify whether they are out of work or facing reduced hours. The group is also operating under the assumption that Boulder will follow the lead of other cities and halt evictions. Landlords need to be prepared to be flexible on payments or lease terms if possible, Ulrich said.

“These are unusual times, so normal procedure is not going to work as effectively here. You really do have to figure out a way to get through this and work it out.”

Unhoused, business help and other city efforts

The city will not shut off water or wastewater service due to nonpayment, officials pledged. Xcel has already pledged the same for electric utility customers.

Director of Housing and Human Services Kurt Firnhaber is leading a team exploring ways to prevent evictions, as well as the city’s plan for unhoused residents who may become impacted by COVID. Those accessing shelter will be screened for symptoms and sent to a third location if ill, being housed at the now-closed East Boulder Rec Center.

The city is seeking volunteers to assist in this response. Click here to learn more.

Other city teams are working on help for businesses, shoring up city finances and securing state and federal aid for impacted residents. Parks and open space remain accessible; the Parks department is waiving fees for changing, cancelling or withdrawing from courses, memberships, applications and permits.

We have planned for something like this for years,” wrote councilman Yates in his midweek newsletter, “and we will implement those plans competently.”

Find the latest from the City of Boulder: bouldercolorado.gov/coronavirus

For information about actions and recommendations for Boulder County:

BoCo.org/COVID-19

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 and a truly astounding amount of information, 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 with additional information. It has been updated regularly throughout the week with case counts and governor orders.

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

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