With more than 75 presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Colorado as of Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more.
Pueblo reported its first positive case, and the state also announced its first death related to COV-19: a woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions in the Colorado Springs area.
During a Friday morning news conference, Polis said now that more private labs are gaining the capability for testing, more people should seek testing and not just people with a relevant travel history or severe symptoms, which had been the previous advice.
Increased testing will allow people to know whether they should go to work or isolate, Polis said, and provides more information about the outbreak to health officials, who then can direct health care resources.
Eight people in the state are hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, Polis said.
While 90% of people who have been tested have not tested positive, there are likely hundreds and thousands of people with the virus, Polis said. He lauded the state’s efforts on testing so far, saying Colorado is testing more than any other state and makes up 10% of all tests nationally.
Still, “we need to dramatically increase our testing capacity,” he said, and needed to do it months ago.
So far 650 people have been tested at a drive-through lab in Denver, “far more than expected,” and 650 more have been tested throughout the state. The drive-through lab, however, is outdoors and cannot operate in inclement weather. But more private labs are now able to process results.
The large-event ban applies to groups over 250 people unless organizers can take steps to increase distance to 6 feet between people. Faith leaders should recommend their most vulnerable congregants make alternative plans to attending, he said.
He also announced more actions around testing and treatment:
• Fast-tracking licenses for medical professionals who are licensed in other states but either live or are visiting Colorado for an extended time.
• Contracting dozens of nurses from out of state.
• Authorizing paramedics and EMTs to administer testing.
• Asking doctors and nurses not currently in the workforce to contact their past employer in the event “surge capacity” is needed.
• Employing National Guard medics to provide additional testing capacity and training of community providers.
• A statewide partnership with the private and philanthropic sectors, including Mile High United Way, to provide help to those in need. A website will be launched next week.
• Community spread is limited now, but officials expect it to accelerate. Now, he said, testing must scale up to offer a more informed picture of community spread and “where we are in the epidemiological curve.”
Polis addressed elective procedures, saying patients should reconsider whether they should proceed with them at this time.
The governor also blamed delays on testing on actions at the national level but said “it’s not political” and Colorado must move forward.
“If we were to take no action now, we would suffer worse consequences in the coming weeks,” he said.
The Colorado House and Senate on Friday jointly decided to suspend the general assembly to protect employees, state Rep. Daneya Esgar said.
City Editor Ricardo Lopez Jr. contributed to this report.