Tuesday, June 2, 2020

George Floyd's death reverberates in Colorado

Posted By and on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 7:37 PM

Protesters gathered outside City Hall midday on June 2, eight days after George Floyd died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Protesters gathered outside City Hall midday on June 2, eight days after George Floyd died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer.

In remarks delivered June 2, Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski addressed mostly peaceful local protests against police brutality against black people.

Protests kicked off nationally when Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department pressed his knee against the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old security guard, for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers also pinned down Floyd, The New York Times reports.

The incident, which was captured on video, sparked national anger against Floyd's death and the deaths of other people of color at the hands of law enforcement.

(We'll have more coverage of Colorado Springs protests in tomorrow's issue of the Indy, which you can read in print or online at csindy.com.)

Niski, who released a statement on the killing of Floyd on May 31 — six days after his death — apologized for not addressing the incident earlier.

"I can tell you that what I saw in the video was not only tragic, but it was wrong, unjustified, and was not in service to the people those officers swore to protect," he said at a news conference June 2.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski apologized for not addressing George Floyd's death earlier. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski apologized for not addressing George Floyd's death earlier.

Niski said he hesitated at first to condemn the Minneapolis police officers' actions because it was based on a short video clip — which recalled, for him, memories of other police departments judging CSPD based on footage of the August killing of De'Von Bailey, who was was armed with a concealed handgun and was shot while running from police.

Eventually, he arrived at the conclusion that these were "two different instances."

Niski hopes to improve communication to better understand the needs of people of color, he said. Part of that, he said, has been having regular conversations with community members.

The plan is eventually to create a more formal group, he suggested.

"We were having discussions before the De'Von Bailey incident, about creating a community group that would be kind of our liaison to the community, and the community's liaison back to us," Niski said. "I think what we're really looking for is two-way communication with our community...We're looking for people to ask questions on what we're doing and why we're doing it. We're still in the development stages of that."

While the protests have been "overwhelmingly peaceful," Niski defended the department's use of tear gas and rubber bullets when some people were throwing large rocks at police officers and firing at an armored vehicle late on May 30.

"Saturday was the worst night we had," he said. "I can tell you as a police department and as a staff, we were concerned. We were concerned for our city, because in my 31-year career, I have not seen that type of disorder in Colorado Springs."

A video circulating on social media appears to show CSPD officers hitting a protester and pinning him on the ground during an arrest at a Colorado Springs demonstration.

After the news conference June 2, Niski watched the video and provided the following statement through a spokesperson:

I am aware of the video circulating around social media of our officers using force to effect an arrest during the recent protest. This incident will be reviewed to determine if any laws or department policies were broken.

Preliminary, the video appears to show officers attempting to take a suspect into custody after protestors were given a lawful order to disperse. The suspect seems to be resisting, which is when officers use force to gain compliance and take him into custody.

This video shows a small snapshot of that arrest. The full review will reveal all the events that occurred leading up to this incident, during this incident, and what happened after the video stops. Once that is complete, if the officers have been found to have violated our policies or the law, the appropriate action will be taken.

While protests in Colorado Springs have been overwhelmingly peaceful, we have seen violent and unlawful acts take place, especially during the night. We stand in solidarity with our community and we will continue to protect our community’s right to protest, but when a crime occurs we have to take action to ensure an escalation of violence does not continue.

While Niski unequivocally denounced Floyd's killing, County Commissioner Holly Williams suggested there might be a reason Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck until he passed out.

"I watched the video but there's something that happened in the hour or two hours beforehand," she said during the Board of County Commissioners' June 2 meeting. "So often in the ... video, we don't get the whole story."

She noted deputies and officers face the difficult task of making spur-of-the-moment decisions that must endure analysis by lawyers, judges and the public.

"I'm not going to say this George Floyd [incident] wasn't a mistake," she said. "It was upsetting to watch that."

She asked protestors to follow the lead of the late Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for peaceful demonstrations. Other commissioners also urged protesters to do so safely and without violence.

During a news briefing June 2, Gov. Jared Polis said, "What happened to George Floyd was not only wrong, brutal and inhumane, it was murder."

Polis noted that one reason the nation's focus is trained on the Floyd incident stems from knowing "in our heart of hearts this is not an isolated incident. This is a pattern. We see it starkly. It's something many Americans of color live in fear of."

"We need to listen to those crying out for reform and take action," Polis said. "I hear you. I see you. I grieve with you. I want to work with you to make Colorado better and America better."

Those who demand a violent crackdown on demonstrators drew Polis' ire.

"This is not China, Tiananmen Square. It's not leadership. It's creating more division."

Asked to respond to President Donald Trump's accusation that governors are weak, Polis said a threat to deploy federal troops is counterproductive and "would only stoke worse violence and destruction."

He also said Trump is isolated in the White House and "doesn't know what's going on on our streets."

He said he would work with the Black Caucus, the Legislature, cities and counties to "promote equal treatment under the law." But he didn't name specifics.

The County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police also called for change.

“We are shocked and disgusted by the indefensible use of force that led to George Floyd's recent death in Minneapolis," Broomfield Police Chief Gary Creager, chair of the state police chiefs association, said in a joint statement from the three organizations. "We are equally appalled, however, by the lack of intervention displayed by the other officers who were on the scene."

The three organizations jointly urged state lawmakers to pass a state law requiring officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses force unreasonably, and to report such instances to a superior.

The "Duty to Intervene" is already expected in most Colorado law enforcement agencies, they said, but passing a state law would mean officers could face criminal prosecution in cases like the Minneapolis killing.

In a June 2 statement, a coalition of activist groups condemned "the appalling violence and use of force perpetrated at the hands of law enforcement in Colorado," and called on state lawmakers to hold officers accountable for their actions.

The coalition — including groups such as the NAACP CO–MT–WY State Conference, ProgressNow Colorado and the ACLU of Colorado — accused law enforcement of using aggressive tactics against people gathered peacefully to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other murdered black people.

"On several occasions, these officers met nonviolent congregations of Coloradans and clearly-identified members of the press with volleys of tear gas, pepper balls, and flash bangs," the statement says.  "This is more than just an egregious misuse of force. It is a serious public health concern, especially during an ongoing pandemic."

The statement notes that tear gas "h
as a long history of being utilized to silence communities of color," and is known to cause chemical burns, respiratory problems, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Other organizations signing the statement included the ACLU of Colorado, Women's Lobby of Colorado, The Marigold Project, New Era Colorado, The Bell Policy Center, Cobalt, Denver Young Democrats, Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, One Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

"There is no excuse for using tear gas on nonviolent protesters, let alone those blameless citizens who’ve found themselves in the crossfire," they wrote. "...Our organizations stand together in calling on our lawmakers to pass effective legislation right now to hold law enforcement accountable and to ensure the public is kept safe from police violence."

Stephen Meswarb, interim executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, also voiced anger.

“The protests happening all over the country are an outpouring of rage and grief at the endless, relentless examples of unarmed Black people being brutalized and murdered at the hands of police," Meswarb said in a statement. "George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the latest deaths. Here in Colorado in 2016, Michael Marshall was killed by jail deputies who held him down until he aspirated. In August 2019, Elijah McClain, 23, died after a prolonged encounter with Aurora police officers. That same month, De’Von Bailey, 19, was shot in the back while running away and killed by Colorado Springs police. ACLU of Colorado is united in solidarity with protestors across the country demanding an end to violent, racist policing."

Meswarb condemned Denver police for “shooting rubber bullets and pepper balls indiscriminately into peaceful crowds and using tear gas and other chemical irritants to disperse protesters."

Also on June 2, state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, introduced a bill to increase police transparency and accountability in Colorado.

The legislation appoints the state's attorney general as an "independent investigator of all instances where law enforcement’s use of force results in death or serious bodily injury," according to a statement from Herod.

It also would remove "immunity for prosecution from law enforcement found to have acted unlawfully, allowing peace officers to be sued in their individual capacity" and "require all law enforcement to use body cameras and to collect and report data on the individuals that are stopped and searched."

“Of course, the great percentage of police officers operate with the utmost integrity," Herod said in the statement. "They need not fear. This legislation isn’t about them. It is about holding accountable those that take for granted the public trust; those that need policing.”
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Waller accuses his DA race opponent of abuse of office, collusion

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 5:46 PM

Mark Waller: He's angry. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mark Waller: He's angry.
The campaign of Michael Allen, Republican candidate for district attorney, abused his office and violated attorneys' ethical standards by calling attention to questions surrounding the residency of El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.

That was a portion of a campaign message from Waller to supporters.

Waller is running against Allen for the Republican nomination in the June 30 primary election. No Democrat is running, so the primary will decide the race.

Waller also lashed out at Colorado Springs City Councilor Jill Gaebler, saying she tried to derail his campaign.

At issue is where Waller lives. He says he lives on Mustang Rim Drive, within his district, while his political foes contend he lives in a home in Palmer Lake outside his district that he bought last fall using a Veterans Affairs-backed loan, which requires he occupy the house within 60 days of closing.

After Douglas Bruce filed a complaint when asked to do so by former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, the 10th Judicial District DA's Office concluded there was insufficient evidence he had moved outside his district, which could have caused him to step down from that office. (The 10th District was referred the case after 4th Judicial District DA Dan May bowed out due to his support of Allen, a chief deputy DA in his office.)

In the message, Waller, who didn't respond to the Indy's request for comment last week when the 10th Judicial District DA's Office released the finding, says he's "angry because Michael Allen's campaign recklessly put my family at risk for political gain."

He also wrote:
I'm angry because Michael Allen's campaign decided attacking me personally is a better campaign strategy than debating qualifications. But most of all, I'm angry because a sitting senior deputy district attorney and a sitting Colorado Springs Council member so callously and without regard to oaths they've taken thought it appropriate to abuse the office of the District Attorney and the criminal justice system for political gain. This is a clear violation of the ethical standards attorneys swear to uphold, but it's also a breech of the trust the public puts in people in positions of authority.

Here's the story. Michael Allen's campaign colluded with Jill Gaebler and Jim Bensberg to file a complaint with the DA's office for the purpose of derailing my campaign. Since Gaebler and Bensberg are two of Allen's biggest supporters, they didn't want their names associated with the complaint, so they solicited Doug Bruce to file the complaint. Bruce filed the complaint with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office, who sent it to the 10th Judicial District Attorney's office. Gaebler, who was staking out my house herself, was collaborating with Allen's campaign and pushed the Gazette to write a story. I found out a complaint had been filed, not by an official source, but by a reporter. To be clear, the complaint was rejected without merit.
The email contained these quotes lifted from the report:
Tenth Judicial District DA Jeff Chostner's report states that although Waller bought property in Palmer Lake and spends time there, the investigation revealed he resides on Mustang Rim Drive within his commissioner district, based on a lease agreement, copies of checks for rent, mail addressed to him there and his driver's license and vehicle registration address.

Chostner wrote, "there is not a showing that Mr. Waller abandoned his residence" on Mustang Rim Drive." Hence, he added, "There is insufficient evidence to support that Mr. Waller vacated his County Commissioner seat."

Chostner didn't address the VA loan.

Allen has previously said he didn't have anything to do with the complaint about Waller's residency and it's not appropriate to politicize the issue. He didn't respond to a request for comment about Waller's email message.

Gaebler, who was attending a City Council meeting May 26, didn't respond. But last week she said in an email, "... no matter where Mark Waller is living, he is either defrauding the [Veterans Affairs] or the citizens living in his commission district. He isn’t an ethical person, and should not be our next district attorney.”
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

COVID-19 update for May 19: Polis allocates $1.6 billion in federal relief

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 5:31 PM

El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen.

Starting May 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began reporting COVID-19 deaths in two ways: the number of people who died with COVID-19, and the number of people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 on a death certificate.

CDPHE was reporting 1,257 deaths of people who had COVID-19 when they died, and 968 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 through May 18.

The state has had 22,482 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and 3,955 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

Meanwhile, El Paso County has had 1,376 cases, 235 hospitalizations and 85 deaths, according to El Paso County Public Health.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution May 19 supporting the Senior and Disabled Homestead Exemption, a property tax break for seniors and veterans with disabilities.

Legislative staff had recommended eliminating the exemption due to a projected $3.3 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Read more about the exemption here.

To the frustration of Republicans (including several county commissioners), Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order allocating $1.674 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.

"I am grateful for the support we have received from the federal government, but there will still be hardship ahead," Polis said in a May 18 statement. "This immediate disbursement ensures that no Coloradan has to go without a hospital bed when they need one, that the state can continue to scale up testing and containment, and protect our most vulnerable.

Through an executive order, Polis authorized transfers of:

• $48 million for the current fiscal year, which lasts through June, and $157 million for fiscal year 2020-2021, to the state's Disaster Emergency Fund for medical and public health expenses (including distributions to local public health agencies) due to the COVID-19 crisis;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $7 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Corrections for expenditures to comply with public health measures, such as sanitation and implementation of social distancing measures;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $1 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Human Services for expenditures related to compliance with public health measures veterans living facilities and other long-term care facilities;
• $2 million for FY 2019-20 and $20 million for FY 2020-21 to DHS for increased caseload in benefit programs;
• $37 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Education to respond to increased numbers of at-risk students and other effects of COVID-19;
• $10 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Local Affairs for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, as well as direct assistance, to individuals impacted by COVID-19;
• $510 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Education for expenditures related to remote learning, mitigating lost student progress and increasing free instructional hours;
• $450 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Higher Education to promote policies for retaining students without large increases in tuition;
• $28.9 million for FY 2019-20 and $55.9 million for FY 2020-21 for payroll expenses and other expenditures for public safety, health care and human services employees;
• $275 million for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21 for local governments that didn't receive direct allocations through the coronavirus relief package;
• and $70 million to the state general fund for eligible expenditures related to COVID-19.

Colorado Senate Republicans promptly issued a statement protesting Polis' decision to "unilaterally" allocate the money.

"In a violation of longstanding tradition that gives the people the authority of their tax dollars, the Governor has distributed these funds unilaterally, largely ignoring the needs of Coloradans who reside outside of the Denver metro area," Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. "The Governor's power grab makes it critical that we return to the Capitol now.”

Help Colorado Now, the state's COVID-19 fund, issued a third round of grants totaling $2.7 million to organizations supporting relief efforts. The fund has awarded a total of $11.1 million to 505 nonprofits, businesses and local governments across the state.

Among local awardees:

• Cheyenne Village received $10,000 to provide support for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
• Gateway to Success, which serves domestic violence victims and provides mental health and substance use in El Paso, Fremont, and Pueblo counties, received $25,000.
• Partners in Housing received $25,000 to help families experiencing homelessness.

El Paso County Public Health announced three new outbreaks of COVID-19. They include:

• McDonald’s at 535 Airport Creek Point (three employees tested positive);
• Springs Fabrication at 850 Aeroplaza Drive (two employees tested positive); and
• Cheyenne Mountain Care Center at 835 Tenderfoot Hill Road (two employees tested positive).

The health department also reports that one additional employee of the Walmart on 1575 Space Center Drive, and one new employee of the Discover Goodwill store at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases for each of those outbreaks to four.

Due to an increase in the availability of supplies, state and local health officials encourage anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (such as cough, fever and shortness of breath) to get tested.

"We are now encouraging you to get tested to see if it is COVID, if you have flu-like symptoms," Polis said at a May 18 news conference. "...Keep in mind that flu is mostly gone from our state."

Local, no-cost testing sites include:

• the UCHealth drive-thru testing site at 175 S. Union Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
• the Peak Vista Community Health Centers drive-thru testing site at 3205 N. Academy Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and
• the Pueblo County testing site at 1001 Beulah Ave. (enter through Gate 4 off Mesa Avenue and Gaylord Avenue), open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also has an online symptom tracker where you can report symptoms of COVID-19 to assist the state's ability to track outbreaks.

Up to 20 percent of staff who had been working remotely returned to work in city facilities this week, according to a May 18 statement from the city.

"This staff returns to join many essential employees and public safety workers who have necessarily continued to work on-site through the crisis," the statement says.

At the City Administration Building and City Hall, employees and visitors are required to undergo temperature and symptom checks upon entering, according to the statement. People with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater must return home and can't return for at least 72 hours.

"The City continues to do business during this time, but in-person services will continue to be extremely limited at administrative locations," the statement says. "The public is encouraged to use the GoCOS app, the city website and no-contact drop-box services to conduct business with the City."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct amount of federal relief money allocated to the Colorado Department of Education.
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Friday, May 15, 2020

Hickenlooper, Romanoff share Senate platforms in first forum featuring both

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 9:32 AM

Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's.

Andrew Romanoff, Colorado's former House speaker, has repeatedly criticized former Gov. John Hickenlooper for skipping forums and debates among candidates for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's U.S. Senate seat.

On May 14 — one week after the Secretary of State's Office finalized Colorado's June non-presidential primary ballot — Romanoff finally had his way, as Indivisible NOCO, a progressive activist group, staged a Zoom forum where both candidates could share their views in real time.

Romanoff made clear, though, that he would have preferred an actual debate between candidates. The ground rules of the forum dictated that the two men couldn't attack one another's viewpoints, but rather answer questions one at a time, so voters could "hear both candidates out on their positions," as moderator Gordon McLaughlin explained.

It was a somewhat anticlimactic meeting for the two remaining candidates in one of the most closely watched races outside of the presidential election. Both had an opportunity to review the moderator's questions ahead of time, with a few audience questions added at the tail end.

Around 800 people were tuned in to the forum, according to Indivisible NOCO.

Romanoff's answers included some thinly veiled jabs at his opponent for not participating in earlier debates and for his more moderate platform. Romanoff, the former director of nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, has made the Green New Deal and Medicare for All central to his own campaign, which has relied on grassroots support mostly from within the state.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to emphasize his support for clean energy and gun safety, both areas in which his policy while governor has been criticized by progressives.

The candidates' answers to a question on health care policy provided one of the most dramatic moments. In his response to a question asking how he'd implement universal health care, Hickenlooper said he'd start with a public option that "would be a version of ... something like Medicare or Medicare Advantage."

"If it's done well and it's successful, it'll grow," he said. "It'll attract more people, it'll get larger, the costs will come down, the quality will increase...you'll end up with an evolution that allows people ultimately to get to a single-payer system — but it'll be an evolution, not a revolution."

It was Romanoff's turn to answer the question next.

"I support Medicare for All," he said. "I don't believe this is a time for timidity, and telling folks they have to wait for a slow evolution is heartless."

As he has in the past, Hickenlooper frequently mentioned the state's first-in-the-nation move to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the governor's office. (Critics of Hickenlooper's record on fracking say those methane rules cut down on a fraction of the state's emissions, Westword reported last year.)

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience.

He also frequently mentioned his desire to transition the country from coal to renewable energy such as wind and solar.

"We've got to be willing to go to Washington and treat climate change like — well, it's an existential threat to the entire planet," he said. 

In his own answers, Hickenlooper didn't appear to be overly focused on differentiating his platform from Romanoff's, instead aiming his rhetoric at beating Gardner and overcoming Republicans in the Senate.

Hickenlooper skirted a question about whether he supported the Green New Deal in favor of expressing support for "innovation" in the energy sector, citing his actions as governor to accommodate electric vehicles.

Romanoff, on the other hand, took advantage of several opportunities to state, or imply, ways in which the Democratic candidates differ.

"Republicans are going to attack us no matter what," he said in closing remarks. "They're not going to reward our timidity, so you can't triangulate your way out of this fight. You need to stand your ground. You need to defend your principles. You need to show up and answer questions."

A crowded field of Democrats running to challenge Gardner, including Romanoff, battled it out for months before Hickenlooper joined the race in August, after dropping his bid for president.

Originally, Hickenlooper had rejected calls to drop out of the presidential race and run for Senate — which he acknowledged during the May 14 forum.

"I spent 20 years in a small business, eight years as mayor, eight years as governor, learning how government should work in Washington," he said, "and you know, I did say [Washington] was a terrible place for someone like me, but I am more passionate about this campaign and about winning this office than anything I've ever done in my life."

Hickenlooper petitioned onto the ballot by collecting voter signatures, after an informal preference poll conducted at Democratic caucuses in early March showed Romanoff with a lead of more than 24 percentage points. (The Colorado Sun reports Hickenlooper's campaign paid a political firm more than $420,000 to collect those signatures.)

No other candidates collected enough signatures to successfully petition on to the ballot.

Romanoff was the sole candidate who qualified for the June primary through the caucus and assembly process, garnering 85.86 percent of delegate votes at the Democratic state assembly. State party rules require candidates to garner at least 30 percent of votes if they choose a path to the ballot through that process.

Stephany Rose Spaulding, chair of the Women's and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, came in second with 9.02 percent of the votes.

So far, Hickenlooper's campaign has drawn in a great deal of support from outside the state, and he is the candidate favored by the party establishment. He raised more than $4 million in the first quarter of 2020, while Romanoff brought in $420,000 and Gardner $2.4 million.

Before June 30, the non-presidential primary election day, Colorado voters who are registered with a political party will receive that party's ballot. Unaffiliated voters can save paper by visiting GoVoteColorado.com to select their party preference for that election ahead of time.

Otherwise, unaffiliated voters will receive ballots for both major parties, but can only return one ballot. Gardner does not face a primary challenger.
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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Lamborn lashes out at Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2020 at 1:28 PM

Congressman Doug Lamborn: Standing up for Jesus. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Congressman Doug Lamborn: Standing up for Jesus.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, is leading a campaign to urge Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to "protect the religious liberty" of military members against demands by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to stop pushing Christianity as a condition of military service.

"Far too often, commanders react hastily to vocal anti-religion activists who attempt to obstruct our troops’ first amendment rights,” Lamborn said in a release. “These decisions are often overturned, but only after the intervention of Congress. These infringements on the constitutional rights of our service members must end."

At issue are several recent incidents in which military leaders advocated for Christianity to their troops from their military positions, which the MRFF contends violates the separation of church and state, and military instructions that one religion cannot be favored over another or suggested as a condition of serving in the military.

Some examples cited by Lamborn, which led to changes to that made clear to military members they're not expected to believe in Jesus in order to serve:

Col. Moon H. Kim who sent an email from his military address containing an unsolicited PDF copy of John Piper's new book Coronavirus and Christ to 35 other chaplains, according to Christianity Daily.
• Cpt. Amy Smith, Maj. Scott Ingram and Maj. Christian Goza posting Facebook videos about Christianity on official military pages, Fox News reports.
• Lt. Col. David McGraw hosting Sunday services on his military quarters balcony.

"These complaints show that this organization and its leaders refuse to see the difference between evangelizing and proselytization and wish to ruin the careers of the hardworking men and women who serve as military chaplains,” Lamborn and others said in a letter to Esper. “Unfortunately, the Department (of Defense) and the Army have been far too quick to restrict the religious freedom of chaplains and the service members they serve as a result of this group attacks.”

They note the 2013 and 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts provided protections of religious expression.

Mikey Weinstein: Opposes military favoring Christianity, or any religion, over other religions or no religion. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Mikey Weinstein: Opposes military favoring Christianity, or any religion, over other religions or no religion.
But MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein tells the Indy in an email, "Lamborn has the IQ at about the level of a garden rabbit." (MRFF has tangled numerous times with the Air Force Academy, accusing it of favoring Christianity over other religions, though the Academy denies the accusations.)

Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Army colonel and member of the MRFF advisory board who served as the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, issued this statement:
No fewer than twenty Members of Congress have just totally shamed themselves, proving why the U.S. Congress' rating in poll after poll is now so consistently low it can be declared single-digit.

Doug Collins, W. Gregory Steube, Doug Lamborn, Jim Banks, Ralph Norman, Mike Johnson, Louie Gohmert, Debbie Lesko, Steve King, Andy Harris, Kevin Brady, Brian Babin, Rick Allen, Tim Walberg, Glenn Grothman, Bill Flores, Andy Biggs, Austin Scott, Vicky Hartzler, and that gas-mask-wearing, certified lemon from the Sunshine State of Florida, Matt Gaetz, have penned a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper worthy of being filed with the worst to ever pass from Congress to the Department of Defense.

The letter illustrates each Member's rank ignorance of the U.S. Constitution, of the responsibilities of U.S. military chaplains, of the criticality of good order and discipline in the ranks of the military, and of their own responsibility to the secular law before whatever allegiance they might feel to fundamentalist Christian or other biblical, religious, or spiritual law.

If they believe the reverse — which clearly they must — they should resign immediately from Congress and join the ranks of those American taliban whom they obviously represent. In our country, that's their right. There are probably civilian pulpits aplenty from which they can spew their invectives. But not while in the government and not while using their influence to compel others in that government to "defy the Constitution for Jesus or whatever other diety". Next, these men will be demanding trials for the witches and devils that torment them. 
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Supreme Court hears Colorado's 'faithless electors' case, by phone

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 5:02 PM

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser argued in a Supreme Court case. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser argued in a Supreme Court case.

Two sides in a high-profile case surrounding three would-be "faithless electors" from Colorado argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on May 13 — from a distance.

Rather than argue the state's case in Washington, D.C., Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sat in a Denver conference room with a "nice view of the Capitol," on the eighth floor of the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Building with his wife and son.

Weiser admits he "did not focus so much on the exterior view during the argument," though.

And for good reason: Some scholars have said this case has the potential to completely upend the way the U.S. elects the president.

The case centers on the decision of a so-called "faithless elector," Colorado's Micheal Baca, to cast a vote for presidential candidate John Kasich in the 2016 election rather than Hillary Clinton, who won the state's popular vote. Two other Democratic electors, Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich, had also planned to cast their votes for Kasich but did not do so.

(The aim of all three was to deprive Donald Trump of enough votes to win the presidency as part of a national effort.)

In Colorado (as in most states), members of the Electoral College are required by law to cast their votes for the candidate who wins the popular vote in a given state. So, Baca was replaced by then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The three electors took the case to court — and in August, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor.

In October, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. Their petition was granted in January, and 45 states plus the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of states' rights to impose requirements on electors.

Attorneys for the "faithless electors," on the other hand, argue that electors have autonomy to vote for whomever they choose.

The Supreme Court heard a similar case from Washington state, in which electors were fined for not voting for the winner of that state's popular vote, just before Colorado's case.

Recordings of the oral arguments will be available on the Supreme Court's website by the end of the week.

Until then, here's a recap:

• One of Weiser's central arguments, which was endorsed by Washington state, is that the Constitution allows state lawmakers to enact any limitations they choose for electors, as long as those limitations don't interfere with other constitutional requirements, such as those barring discrimination. (This argument appears to suggest that the National Popular Vote pact, a movement to require electors to vote for the national popular vote winner, would withstand merit.)

"The 14th Amendment quite notably means a state could not remove an elector based on race or religion," Weiser explained to Chief Justice John Roberts. "Also, the qualifications clause [of the Constitution] means you can't remove electors for the purpose of adding qualifications for who can be president."

• Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked a rather philosophical question: "What is the purpose of having electors?"

"When electors are set up in the constitutional design, that allows for states to make a choice," Weiser replied. "Electors can either vote as proxy voters on behalf of the public, as we do here in Colorado, or they can be free agents."

•Meanwhile, Jason Harrow, chief counsel at Equal Citizens, a Massachusetts-based firm that advocates for election reform, argued the opposite: that electors, as individuals, have nearly limitless discretion.

"Once the vote begins, that vote by ballot is the electors," said Harrow. He argued that Colorado's law binding electors to the popular vote allows no leeway, even if a presidential candidate was facing accusations of bribery, for example, or had passed away after the general population cast their votes.

• During a video conference after the oral arguments, Weiser suggested that lawyers for the faithless electors in Washington state's case implied that the chaos that could result from giving electors that ultimate discretion could lead to needed changes with the Electoral College system.

But Weiser told reporters that goes against Colorado's philosophy.

"I personally am not a fan of a chaos theory," he said. "I believe in working hard to make institutions work in a functional and pragmatic way. That's what we're doing here in Colorado."

• One highlight for Weiser? Justice Clarence Thomas' Lord of the Rings reference.

Thomas is famous for rarely speaking during oral arguments, but wasn't shy about grilling Weiser and Harrow during their remote presentations.

"The elector who has promised to vote for the winning candidate could suddenly say, 'I’m going to vote for Frodo Baggins ... I really like Frodo Baggins,'" he posed to Harrow, "and you’re saying under your system you can’t do anything about that."

"I think there is something to be done, because that would be a vote for a non-person," Harrow replied. (Harrow had earlier stated that case law dictates electors cannot vote for someone who is not a human.)

Weiser, a self-described "huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien," looped that reference back in to his closing argument.

"During the course of this entire litigation and this argument today, my friends on the other side have failed to offer any viable theory on how to address the spectacle of a bribed elector, an elector who votes for Frodo Baggins, or one who would perpetrate a bait-and-switch on the people of our state," he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in Colorado and Washington state's cases anytime between now and June.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 22: Hot air balloon rides for first responders

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free balloon rides to first responders and front-line workers. - COURTESY OF RAINBOW RYDERS
  • Courtesy of Rainbow Ryders
  • Hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free balloon rides to first responders and front-line workers.

As of 4 p.m. April 22, the Colorado Department of Public Health was reporting 10,878 cases, 2,123 hospitalizations and 508 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That data is current through April 21.

In El Paso County, there have been 774 cases and 54 deaths.

The latest data on outbreaks at non-hospital health care facilities, such as nursing homes, shows 123 outbreaks statewide and seven in El Paso County.

New outbreaks in El Paso County include Apple Tree Assisted Living, which had two residents test positive for COVID-19, and Pikes Peak Care Center, which had two residents and one staff member test positive.

You can view more detailed data at covid19.colorado.gov or at elpasocountyhealth.org/covid19data-dashboard.

And if you haven't seen it yet, you may want to check out our cover story this week delving into El Paso County Public Health's response to the outbreak of COVID-19 that began at a local bridge club.

Gov. Jared Polis outlined more specific guidance for businesses that plan to reopen soon, when the stay-at-home order expires April 27 and the "Safer at Home" phase of Colorado's COVID-19 response kicks off.

The following guidelines, which apply starting April 27, come from Polis' office:

• Vulnerable populations and older adults must stay home unless absolutely necessary.
• No group gatherings of more than 10 people.
• Critical businesses will remain open with strict precautions (social distancing, masks for all employees, more frequent cleanings, etc.)
• Retail businesses may open for curbside delivery and phased-in public opening with strict precautions.
• Nightclubs, gyms and spas will remain closed.
• Elective medical and dental procedures begin, with strict precautions to ensure adequate personal protective equipment and the ability to meet critical care needs.
• Personal services (salons, tattoo parlors, dog grooming, personal training, etc.) will open with strict precautions.
• K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions will continue to suspend normal in-person instruction for the 2019-2020 school year.
• Telecommuting continues for offices. Starting on May 4, up to 50% of staff can work in person (with social distancing in place).
• The state is not changing requirements for nursing homes and other senior care facilities. There will continue to be restrictions on visiting residents.
For many industries in Colorado, Polis said April 22, "there's going to be specifics that are outlined by public health around these practices... As consumers, as individuals, you don't need to know them."

But Polis emphasized that all Coloradans need to wear face masks and practice good handwashing hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, will hold a telephone town hall April 23 to provide an update on the federal response to COVID-19 and to answer Coloradans' questions.

Bennet will be joined by Dr. Mark Learned from Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Greg Stasinos from the Colorado Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and Mark Crisman from the Colorado Health Emergency Line for Public Information (COHELP). Those experts will provide information on Colorado's response and available resources.

Coloradans can RSVP online here, and are asked to call in at 12:55 p.m. to "ensure a prompt start to the discussion." The town hall is scheduled from 1-2 p.m.

Five community organizations helping support COVID-19 relief efforts will receive grants totaling $55,000, thanks to the Hillside neighborhood's Hillside Advisory Team and The Colorado Trust, a statewide foundation.

Among the recipients, chosen by the team for their impact on the Hillside community:

Pikes Peak Community Foundation received $25,000 "to support emergency relief efforts in southeast Colorado Springs," according to a statement from The Colorado Trust.

Colorado Springs Food Rescue received $10,000 "to support the emergency food relief program at the Helen Hunt Campus," a nonprofit campus on the site of a former elementary school.

Community Partnership for Child Development (CPCD) Giving Children a Head Start received $5,000 to "ensure family stability and continued educational opportunities for children enrolled at the Helen Hunt Campus."

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado received $5,000 to "support the Family Connections program at the Helen Hunt Campus."

Open Bible Medical Clinic & Pharmacy received $5,000 to "support their mobile food pantry."

PikeRide received $5,000 to "support provision of free rides for health care workers, small-business employees and community members."

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) sought to clarify that survivors of domestic violence are permitted to leave their homes — regardless of social distancing restrictions and public health orders — to call or text for help, or to find safe housing.

"The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority, and everyone who needs to leave their home to stay safe can and should do so," CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes said in a statement.

"We know that people who perpetrate violence in their relationship may use misinformation and lies to control their partners and create fear," Barnes continued. "It is acceptable to leave your home — and to take any dependents like children or parents with you — in order to ask for help or escape violence."

Here are some local resources for domestic violence survivors:

Haseya Advocate Program, which serves Native American survivors, can be reached at 719-600-3939.

TESSA Colorado Springs has several advocates working Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can be reached at the following numbers:

Outside of those hours, you can dial TESSA's 24-hour Safe Line at 719-633-3819.

Voces Unidas for Justice, which offers cultural and linguistic services for Latin@s, can be reached at 720-588-8219.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-800-799-7233 — can also connect people to a local provider. People who can't make a phone call can text loveis to 22522 or visit thehotline.org to chat with an advocate.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office encourages voters to prepare for the June 30 non-presidential primary election by making sure their information is up-to-date online.

"Voters should use online services to avoid in-person contact once offices reopen," a statement from the Pikes Peak Regional Joint Information Center says.

Visit GoVoteColorado.gov to update your voter information, make changes to your party affiliation or party preference, or register to vote.

Voters affiliated with a major party will only receive that party's primary ballot.

Unaffiliated voters will receive mailed ballots for both the Republican and Democratic primaries unless they choose a party preference ahead of the election. (If you already chose a preference for the March election, you must choose one again for the June primary if you only want to receive one ballot.)

Even if you receive both ballots in the mail, keep in mind that you may only return one, or your vote won't count.

Voters with questions can contact the elections department at 719-575-VOTE (8683) or elections@elpasoco.com.

UCHealth, in coordination with El Paso County Public Health, is now conducting COVID-19 testing for all people with the ability to walk who have experienced fever, cough or shortness of breath within the last 3-5 days. No doctor’s note is required.

The drive-thru testing site is located at South Parkside Drive in KidsKare Point, one block east of Union Boulevard. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For a bit of levity (see what we did there), hot air balloon company Rainbow Ryders is giving away free hot air balloon rides to first responders, medical professionals, grocery and pharmacy workers.

Nominate someone (including yourself) online, for the chance to win a hot air balloon ride for two, valued at $450.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

National Popular Vote to appear on the ballot this fall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 12:51 PM

Protesters hoped the Electoral College would opt against Trump in 2016. - RENA SCHILD / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com
  • Protesters hoped the Electoral College would opt against Trump in 2016.

The two sides in a battle over who gets to elect the president are coming into clearer focus ahead of the 2020 fall election.

The issue: whether the presidency should continue to go to the candidate with the most Electoral College delegates — the system that's been in place since the country's founding — or the person who garners the highest support among individual voters, thereby winning the popular vote.

The College has a total of 538 electors, including nine in Colorado. The number of a state’s electors is equal to its senators (two) plus the number of representatives, which is based on population. Under the current system, those electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the state's popular vote.

The National Popular Vote movement, which started in 2006 but recently gained momentum, asks state legislatures to pass a law pledging their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. It doesn't go into effect until states that hold a total of 270 electoral votes (enough to win the election) have signed on.

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia (representing 196 total electoral votes) have passed National Popular Vote laws.

Colorado’s popular vote law, Senate Bill 42, was signed by Gov. Jared Polis on March 15, 2019. But state legislators included a provision that, should someone file to place a referendum on the ballot in 2020, the law would not go into effect until voters had weighed in.

An opposition group — led by Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and Monument Mayor Don Wilson — did just that, submitting enough petition signatures last August to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot.

On April 14, the Yes on National Popular Vote committee launched a campaign to get Coloradans to approve the law. But it's been raising money for a while now. The committee had raised more than $1.7 million as of Jan. 15, including a $330,000 contribution from Santa Monica, California, resident Josh Jones.

Opponents, including the Protect Colorado's Vote committee, argue that the National Popular Vote reduces the influence of less populous states by making every individual vote equal. (That committee had raised nearly $800,000 as of Jan. 15.)

Outrage over the idea of handing Colorado's electoral votes to New York and California has become a rallying cry against the change.

"Vote Democrat if you want to give your presidential vote to New York and to California," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said at a February rally to re-elect President Donald Trump.

One counterargument to that viewpoint: The outsize influence of small states only benefits the residents of those states who are members of the state's majority party.

Under a winner-take-all model, a minority-party vote doesn’t get tabulated toward a total that ultimately decides the presidential race; it essentially disappears. (Colorado voted Democrat in the last presidential election, meaning all of the state's electoral votes were awarded to Hillary Clinton.)

"The National Popular Vote will make sure every voter across the country is relevant," state Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said during a conference call announcing the Yes on National Popular Vote campaign's launch. "Somebody wanting to vote for a Democratic candidate in a red state will have the same voice as someone wanting to vote for a Republican candidate in that state."

Foote, the National Popular Vote bill sponsor in Colorado, said the committee had grassroots support from communities across the state. Organizations that have endorsed a "yes" vote on the referendum include the League of Women Voters of Colorado; the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference; and Common Cause Colorado.

"Colorado voters have a really great opportunity to show the rest of the country that the National Popular Vote is in fact a good idea and a good idea in our democracy by voting yes this fall," Foote said. "...If it doesn’t pass, then that just means that it’s off the books in Colorado ... but all you need is states with 270 electoral votes to pass the National Popular Vote agreement for it to go into effect."

The campaign hosted the first of several virtual town halls April 14, with more to come.
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Friday, April 10, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 10: Polis mourns death of 21-year-old athlete

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 5:46 PM

Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference outside the Colorado Convention Center, where construction is underway on an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients. - GOV. JARED POLIS FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Gov. Jared Polis Facebook page
  • Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference outside the Colorado Convention Center, where construction is underway on an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients.

As of 4 p.m. April 10, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 6,510 cases of COVID-19, along with 1,312 hospitalizations and 250 deaths. In El Paso County, there have been 550 cases and 33 deaths. (That data is current through April 9.)

Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference April 10 outside the Colorado Convention Center, where he said construction had been underway for the last 48 hours on an alternative care facility to house recovering COVID-19 patients who may need to be transferred from hospitals to accommodate more people.

Polis stressed that all Coloradans, even those who don't have preexisting medical conditions and younger people who are less at risk, should continue to take precautions against the coronavirus by staying at home except for essential travel and business, and wearing a mask outside.

"Of course we mourn victims of all ages, but to highlight how this virus can strike down anybody in their prime, we lost in the last couple of days 21-year-old Cody Lyster," Polis said. Lyster, a baseball player at Colorado Mesa University, is one of the youngest people to die from COVID-19 in Colorado.

Polis also promoted a website that was recently launched by the state, stayathomeco.colorado.gov. The website features free wellness, education and entertainment resources for people under self-quarantine.

"If you can provide [online] services for free to your fellow Coloradans in this crisis, you can sign up to do that" through the website, Polis added.

In El Paso County, 9,801 people filed for unemployment benefits the week ending March 28, according to new data released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. For comparison, 2,869 people filed the week ending March 21, and 328 people filed the week ending March 14.

For those out of work, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center is holding a virtual job fair through April 30. The workforce center also offers assistance to those filing for unemployment.

The El Paso County Economic Development Division launched a new program, the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone (EZ) Business Relief Fund, aimed at assisting small businesses affected by COVID-19.

"Small businesses within the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone will have access to grants up to $7,500," the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC explains the new program in a statement. "The funds will focus on critical assistance for needs such as rent or mortgage assistance, utility payments, employee payroll, accounts payable, etc. The grant funds will work in conjunction with both Federal and State assistance already available to small businesses."

More information about the program, including how to apply or donate funds for an income tax credit, is available online.

The Colorado Unified Command Group announced it has issued purchase orders for more than $46.2 million worth of medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment, for health care facilities and local government agencies.

"Once the supplies arrive and testing has verified quality, the state will begin distributing them throughout the state to fulfill resource requests from local emergency management and public health agencies, including hospitals," a statement from the Command Group says. "PPE will be distributed according to the state's PPE Allocation and Distribution guide, which prioritizes health care workers, first responders and critical infrastructure workers."

The Colorado Business Emergency Operations Center is coordinating requests for supplies and donations online.

People who wish to volunteer time or donate to statewide COVID-19 relief efforts can also visit helpcoloradonow.com. Or, donations to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation's COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund at ppcf.org/relief will assist local efforts.

The Air Force Academy announced details for the upcoming April 18 graduation of senior cadets, which was moved up earlier than usual and will be stripped of its usual fanfare.

"Cadets will be strictly adhering to social distancing guidelines for the ceremony, marching 6 feet apart and sitting 8 feet apart during the event," the Academy announced. "The Air Force Thunderbirds will conduct a flyover of the ceremony, but will not perform their traditional aerobatics demonstration at the conclusion of the ceremony."

Vice President Mike Pence will give the commencement address via video message, the statement adds, and spectators won't be allowed at the ceremony.

With the help of an $8 million donation from Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs plans to create the National Resilience Institute, which will "focus on the health and well-being of all trauma survivors with specialty expertise for those who put their lives on the line: veterans, military members, first responders and their family members," the university announced April 9.

"Beyond the targeted focus on these military and first responder groups, cross-disciplinary scientific exploration will focus on developing resilience more broadly for individuals, families and communities," adds the statement from UCCS.

The university needs to raise an additional $7.75 million to make the institute a reality. In the meantime, UCCS on April 10 announced the launch of the Greater Resilience Information Toolkit (GRIT), a website that  contains resources for mental health workers, first responders, medical providers and community members to help build resilience in the face of difficult circumstances — such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through that website, community members can also apply to become GRIT Coaches, who will go through a virtual training with "information and skills on general and COVID-19 stress, resilience, disaster recovery, skills, support and small interventions to enable a GRIT Coach to educate, support and motivate individuals and communities to be as resilient as they can be in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent precautions."
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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19 update for April 8: Churches may offer "drive-in" Easter services, Polis says

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2020 at 6:29 PM

The Colorado Convention Center has been announced as a medical shelter facility to house recovering COVID-19 patients. - JOE WOLF
  • Joe Wolf
  • The Colorado Convention Center has been announced as a medical shelter facility to house recovering COVID-19 patients.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 5,655 cases of COVID-19 — the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — through April 7.

Statewide, 1,162 people have been hospitalized and 193 have died. In El Paso County, there have been 472 confirmed cases and 30 deaths.

"Our thoughts and our hearts go out to every family who's experienced loss because of COVID-19 in Colorado," Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference April 8.

Polis said the state has "confidence" the stay-at-home order's current end date of April 26 can remain in place.

"If people are failing to stay at home and mixing unnecessarily and spreading the virus, that [could] go longer," he added.

Centura Health announced it is opening 7 locations — including Colorado Springs and Pueblo — offering COVID-19 testing for symptomatic first responders across Colorado.

“We’ve recognized the need for additional COVID-19 testing since the onset of this pandemic and are grateful that we now have the capacity to provide this testing to our first responder community. The value of knowing is priceless for first responders,” Dr. Shauna Gulley, Centura's chief clinical officer, said in a statement.

“Our partners on the front line are presented with unique challenges because of the nature of their work and we want to ensure that they have the support and information they need to protect themselves, their loved ones and the community.

”Responder agencies interested in testing for their teams should email CenturaLovesFirstResponders@centura.org to receive special forms. First responders will need to bring the forms with them for testing.

The following locations are open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

● Colorado Springs: 3027 N. Circle Drive
● Pueblo: 4112 Outlook Blvd.
● Denver: 711 E. Yale Ave.
● Westminster: 7233 Church Ranch Blvd.
● Breckenridge: 555 S. Park Ave.
● Durango: 810 3rd St.
● Longmont: 1380 Tulip St.

Polis announced guidance for faith leaders for celebrating Easter and other large religious holidays.

Churches with adequate parking capacity that follow safety guidelines may offer "drive-in" services, as long as they follow social distancing and other safety procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Churches who want to coordinate such services should coordinate with their county health department, Polis said.

"It's not for every church — most can reach more people better through streaming technologies — but certainly that's available," he added.

Church services can also be recorded or broadcast live using production crews of fewer than 10 people.

The Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre will be pre-recorded and available on the Colorado Council of Churches website, no later than 6 a.m. Easter Sunday.

Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher and a professor at Denver's Iliff School of Theology, will deliver the sermon.

Colorado's Unified Command announced two alternative care facilities — the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, and The Ranch, Larimer County Fairgrounds & Events Complex in Loveland — to shelter COVID-19 patients being transferred from hospitals and health care facilities. Combined, the two facilities will be able to hold around 3,000 patients.

The Army Corps of Engineers will begin construction at the two sites on April 10, according to a statement from the command center.

The command center plans to finalize leases with three additional alternative care sites by the end of this week, the statement also notes.

Such alternative care sites, which are being prepared to address an expected shortage of space at hospitals, will house "Tier 3" patients only.

Here's how the tiers work:

● Tier 1: Patients with critical needs (those who need medical attention) are admitted into a critical care setting, such as an intensive care unit or medical nursing unit.
● Tier 2: As Tier 1 patients recover, they may be transferred to an ambulatory surgical center, free-standing emergency department, or critical access hospital for acute care.
● Tier 3: As Tier 2 patients recover further, they may be transferred to alternative care sites or medical shelters.
● Tier 4: Patients who are ready to go home but need to stay quarantined may be transferred to a hotel that has been converted to a medical shelter.

Local nonprofit Special Kids Special Families, which mainly serves kids and adults with disabilities, is offering behavioral health care for seniors via telehealth technology (phone or secure video).

Services include a mental health screening, diagnostic clinical evaluation, individual or family therapy and case management.

The nonprofit accepts Medicaid or CIGNA insurance, and the services are free for uninsured seniors. Contact Special Kids Special Families at (719) 447-8983 or visit sksfcolorado.org for more information.

People experiencing a mental health crisis can contact Colorado Crisis Services 24/7, seven days a week. Call 1-844-493-TALK or text TALK to 38255 to speak with a trained professional. Chat services are also available from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. daily at coloradocrisisservices.org.

The federal Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to a company marketing "fraudulent and dangerous" chlorine dioxide products billed as a treatment for COVID-19.

"Despite previous warnings, the FDA is concerned that we are still seeing chlorine dioxide products being sold with misleading claims that they are safe and effective for the treatment of diseases, now including COVID-19," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

"The sale of these products can jeopardize a person's health and delay proper medical treatment."

Colorado Springs Business Journal Managing Editor Helen Robinson contributed reporting.
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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Update: COVID-19 stalls Colorado legislative session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 10:18 AM

  • Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled in favor of state Democrats, saying that the 120 days in the legislative session do not need to be counted consecutively.

State statute and the Assembly's joint resolution "together operate to count the 120 calendar days of a regular session consecutively except during a declared public health emergency disaster, in which case only days on which at least one chamber convenes count toward the 120-day maximum."

This means state legislators should be able to tack on extra days to the end of the legislative session after they return to the Capitol.


After a two-week, unplanned break in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of Colorado lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol on March 30.

The state Assembly had voted March 14 to postpone the session until that date, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But on March 30, neither the Senate nor the House had enough people present — as expected — to establish a quorum, the minimum number of lawmakers required to vote on legislation. (That's 18 senators and 33 representatives, or a simple majority.)

So, both chambers adjourned for at least a few days.

House lawmakers are planning to adjourn again "in some way" when the chamber is scheduled to meet next April 2, says Jarrett Freedman, communications director for House Democrats.

State Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, says the general consensus among Senate Democrats is to "continue the adjournment for the foreseeable future."

(There had been some discrepancy about whether legislators needed to return March 30 to vote on extending the adjournment, the Colorado Sun reports.)

In Lee's view, legislators have a responsibility to follow the stay-at-home order: "For us to go in when we do not have a critical function to perform to me seems foolhardy," he says.

It's unclear when the lawmaking session will resume.

On March 27, however, Gov. Jared Polis signed a batch of bills that had already been passed by state lawmakers. Some of the highlights from that list include:

House Bill 1275, which allows service members, veterans and their dependents to receive in-state tuition at Colorado community colleges;
House Bill 1178, which requires the Colorado Department of Transportation to study whether speed limits can be increased on certain rural highways; and
House Bill 1300, which makes technical changes to the local school food purchasing program.

You can read the full list here.

Meanwhile, House Democrats and Republicans are in the midst of a legal battle over what happens after lawmakers are able to return to the Capitol.

State law says that the legislative session is only 120 days, and that has been interpreted in the past to mean consecutive days.

Democrats — who hold the majority in the House, Senate and governor's office — want the session to be extended past its scheduled end date, due to this unplanned break.

Republicans, on the other hand, want the session to end on May 6, as scheduled. This would greatly hamper Democrats' ability to pass their legislative priorities.

Both sides have submitted briefs to the Colorado Supreme Court, which could issue a decision by the end of the week, CBS Denver reports.
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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Figure how much of the $2 trillion rescue bill you'll get

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 11:56 AM

  • Courtesy USGS
Been wondering how much you'll get from the $2 trillion stimulus package just passed by Congress to pump money into the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis?

Marketwatch.com provides a detailed description of how payments will be calculated.

In short, here are the rules, based on that website:

• Taxpayers making $75,000 and below will receive a $1,200 check. Married couples making $150,000 and below will receive $2,400. Taxpayers falling under those caps also will receive $500 per child. Those who file as “head of household” — meaning they are unmarried, have children or dependents and pay more than half of their household expenses — will get the $1,200 check if they make $112,500 and below.

• You won't be taxed on the stimulus check.

• All of that is based on adjusted gross income, which is gross income less deductions. Checks will be based on 2018 tax filings, or on 2019 filings, if they've been made. However, 2019 taxes aren't due until July 15, moved from April 15 amid the COVID-19 crisis.

• Those who receive Social Security benefits will be eligible, as will green card holders.

• The checks phase out for incomes above $75,000 a year and caps for individuals making above $99,000 a year. For married couples, income of $198,000 a year is the cap and those filing as head of household are capped at $146,500 a year, according to the analysis from the office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

• Checks will be paid via direct deposit to bank accounts taken from taxpayer's 2018 or 2019 returns. If you didn't use bank information for direct deposit on your filing, your check will come in the mail.

Want to calculate your check? Go to the Washington Post's website and plug in your data.

The Post also reports there's a catch to all of this, as follows:
The only catch is that technically a person’s 2020 income is what qualifies them for the payment. Since no one knows their total 2020 income yet, the government is using tax returns from 2019 and 2018 to figure out who qualifies for a check. It is possible that someone may have to pay back some of the money if his or her income this year turns out to be significantly more than it was in 2019 or 2018. That’s expected to be a relatively small share of people, and the money would not have to be paid back until April 15, 2021.
Checks will start going out the week of April 6 and could take several weeks to mail, the Post reports.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 update for March 25: Statewide stay-at-home order announced

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 5:13 PM

Pete Zeitz, Colorado College's campus safety supervisor, and Catherine Buckley, assistant director for community connections, drop off donations of personal protective equipment at Penrose Hospital. The donations of gloves, masks and biohazard bags came from Colorado College Athletics, Campus Safety and the Fine Arts Center. - COURTESY OF COLORADO COLLEGE
  • Courtesy of Colorado College
  • Pete Zeitz, Colorado College's campus safety supervisor, and Catherine Buckley, assistant director for community connections, drop off donations of personal protective equipment at Penrose Hospital. The donations of gloves, masks and biohazard bags came from Colorado College Athletics, Campus Safety and the Fine Arts Center.

Gov. Jared Polis announced a statewide stay-at-home order that will go into effect at 6 a.m. March 26. Under the order, Coloradans must stay at home except for necessary business. "Critical businesses" — like grocery stores, health care facilities and shelters — are exempt from the order. These businesses must comply with social distancing requirements.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 1,086 cases of COVID-19 through March 24, including 122 in El Paso County, and 19 deaths across the state. Five of those deaths have occurred in El Paso County.

Colorado lawmakers voted March 14 to postpone the legislative session until at least March 30 in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. But Democrats and Republicans disagree over whether they should be allowed to tack on extra days to the end of the session in order to make up for lost time.

State law says that the legislative session is only 120 days, and that has been interpreted in the past to mean consecutive days. Democrats, who hold the majority in the state House, Senate and governor's office, want extra days added on after the end of the session, which is currently scheduled for May 6. Republicans want the session to end that day.

The Colorado Supreme Court will consider both arguments in making a decision. Briefs filed in the case were due March 24.

As of late afternoon on March 25, the U.S. Senate was close to passing a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that would include direct payments to taxpayers, unemployment benefits and assistance for financially distressed businesses.

The New York Times reports that a final vote on the legislation was being held up by a group of Republican senators who objected to the expansion of unemployment insurance, while some progressives felt the bill was too lenient on corporations.

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation's COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund — created in partnership with Pikes Peak United Way and the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management — had raised $517,000 for efforts in El Paso and Teller counties as of March 20. However, initial requests for funding from organizations was more than double that: $1.3 million.

"It's during times of crisis that our community stands together to support our city, and we are humbled by how quickly and generously our community responds to urgent needs," Gary Butterworth, the CEO of PPCF, said in a statement. "However, there is still much work ahead of us as we support those serving the most vulnerable in our community."

El Paso County organizations that have received assistance through the relief fund so far include Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, Family Promise of Colorado Springs, Fountain Valley Senior Center and more.

In order to accommodate restaurants providing curbside pickups and food deliveries, downtown parking in Manitou Springs will be free of charge until April 30, the city announced in a statement.

"The decision to not charge hourly off-street and on-street parking customers is directly aimed at helping stop COVID-19 by eliminating cashier and kiosk interactions," the statement says.

The Barr Trail Lot and the 400 blocks of Ruxton Avenue and Winter Street will remain paid parking, and residential parking areas will be "monitored and enforced as necessary."

Colorado Springs has also made parking free in metered spots downtown and in Old Colorado City, until April 30.

Local nonprofit Harley's Hope Foundation, in collaboration with Colorado Pet Pantry, is offering assistance to pet owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation says it can deliver dog and cat food for free to people in El Paso, Teller or Pueblo counties who are under mandatory quarantine, or at high risk of serious effects from the virus (people older than 65 and those with underlying medical conditions). To request food, call (719) 495-6083 or email info@harleys-hopefoundation.org.

Harley's Hope also has $150 vouchers to help pay for pet medications. People who are currently unemployed due to COVID-19, or experiencing other financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, can fill out an application online. Applicants must provide veterinary verification and proof of financial need.

Finally, the foundation is looking for people who can foster animals for people who are temporarily unable to care for them. You can apply online.

Don't fall victim to Social Security scammers in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, warns the Social Security Office of the Inspector General.

The office says it has received reports of Social Security beneficiaries receiving letters in the mail that say their payments will be suspended or stopped unless they call a number listed in the letter. People who call the number may be prompted by scammers to provide personal information or payments, thus making them vulnerable to identity theft and other crimes.

"Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic," the inspector general's office says in a statement. "Any communication you receive that says SSA will do so is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call."

Those who do receive such communications should not respond. You can report suspected scams online.

On March 24, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing submitted an 1135 waiver request to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), asking for more flexibility in administering health care to people affected by COVID-19.

Such waivers can cut down on regulatory burdens in state-administered health care systems by, for example, temporarily suspending certain requirements for enrolling providers in the Medicaid network, or waiving requirements that doctors be licensed in the same state where they are providing services.

Democratic and Republican members of Colorado's congressional delegation signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, asking for swift approval of the waiver request.

CMS has approved waiver requests in 13 other states since March 17.

More than 300 medical workers from the 627th Hospital Center at Fort Carson will deploy to Washington state to help with the COVID-19 response.

Evans Army Community Hospital "is working to minimize the impact" of the deployment on Fort Carson soldiers, family members and retirees, according to an announcement from the Army installation. People have an upcoming scheduled appointment should contact their primary care manager to confirm the date and time, the statement said.

As of March 25, Washington state had more than 2,460 reported cases of COVID-19 and 123 deaths due to the virus, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Project C.U.R.E., a foundation that distributes medical equipment and supplies around the world, will host a donation drive for personal protective equipment at UCHealth Park in collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball team.

On March 25 between 12 and 4 p.m., Project C.U.R.E. will collect donations of the following items (unused and in unopened boxes), to be given to local hospitals:

• Eye protection and goggles
• Face shields
• Surgical masks
• Sterile and non-sterile gloves
• Disposable gowns
• N95 masks
• Sanitation wipes
• Personal wipes

UCHealth Park is located at 4385 Tutt Boulevard.

Infinity Shuttle, a local transportation company, is using its shuttle vans to bring food to Sierra High School, and all of the elementary and middle schools in Harrison District 2, according to an email from owner Anthony Perez. Through a collaboration with nonprofit COSILoveYou, the shuttles are also delivering food and supplies to people who can't get to one of the schools or leave their homes.

To collect supplies for the effort, donation drives will be held between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays at the following locations:

• New Life Church, 11025 Voyager Parkway
• Pulpit Rock Church, 301 Austin Bluffs Parkway
• Vanguard Church, 3950 N. Academy Boulevard

The following items will be accepted:

• Toilet paper
• Diapers
• Wipes
• Baby supplies
• Children's cold medicine
• General toiletries

The Air Force Academy's North Gate will be closed to all traffic until further notice, according to a March 25 announcement.

The Academy, which has been closed to visitors since March 13, began offering remote classes and training to cadets on March 25.

Disconnections of water service for Woodland Park customers will be suspended until further notice, the city announced in a statement.

"For customers who are unable to make utility bill payments, the City is working on a case-by-case basis to provide payment options and arrange payment plans during the COVID-19 Virus pandemic," the statement says. "It is very important for customers to maintain open communication with the Utility Billing team if they are unable to make their utility bill payments."

Woodland Park customers who need to discuss payment options and plans, or ask questions about utility bills, are asked to call (719) 686-9680 or email utilitybilling@cityofwp.net.

The city of Woodland Park is also waiving penalties on sales, use and lodging tax penalties for payments due March 20 or later, until Woodland Park City Council rescinds the local disaster emergency declaration for COVID-19.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct effective time of the stay-at-home order, as well as additional information about donation drives coordinated by COSILoveYou.
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Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19: Paid leave, emergency declarations, and what it all means for you

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2020 at 3:42 PM

Congress approved legislation funding paid leave for certain people. - MARTIN FALBISONER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Martin Falbisoner/Wikimedia Commons
  • Congress approved legislation funding paid leave for certain people.

The U.S. Senate voted March 18 to approve legislation granting financial support for individuals, families and businesses impacted by the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

The act, signed by President Donald Trump on March 19, provides new funding for nutrition assistance, medical care and paid leave related to COVID-19.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will designate an additional $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and $400 million for emergency food assistance. It will allow state agencies to develop plans that would supply free meals for kids whose school districts have closed and designate $250 million for aging and disability services, including home-delivered meals.

The legislation also designates $1 billion for reimbursing health care providers for services related to COVID-19, including testing and office visits, and provides additional unemployment assistance funding for states to distribute.

It also requires paid leave for some people affected by the pandemic, though certain exemptions apply based on company size (and if your company already provides paid leave, this may not apply).

Significantly, the Families First Act requires employers to provide
 family leave for employees impacted by COVID-19, with some caveats: People receiving paid leave due to the need to care for a child (including due to a school closure) must have been employed at their company for at least 30 days. The first 10 days of such leave can be unpaid — after that, employees must be paid at least two-thirds of their salary (up to $200 per day) for eight weeks. Businesses with more than 500 employees or fewer than 50 employees can be exempted from this requirement.

The Families First Act also requires paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19, who can qualify if they are sick or have been advised to self-quarantine. Full-time employees get 80 hours of paid sick time, and part-time employees get paid sick time equal to the number of hours they'd work over two weeks. The amount of leave is the same as regular pay (up to $511 a day). Businesses with more than 500 employees are exempt from this requirement.

The Senate voted 90-8 in favor of the Families First Act, with Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet voting in favor. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner did not vote, as he self-quarantined after learning that a constituent who visited his Washington office has tested positive for COVID-19.

In the House, most of Colorado's delegation voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, voted against it.

The White House has also proposed a $1 trillion spending plan in response to COVID-19 that would include $500 billion in direct payments to Americans. The plan would need approval from both the House and Senate.

ABC News reports that the payments, according to a proposal from the U.S. Treasury, would be distributed to all U.S. taxpayers in two rounds: the first beginning April 6, and the second May 18. The payment amounts would be tiered based on income and household size.

As of March 19,
more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 150 deaths had occurred in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 216 cases and two deaths, both in El Paso County, which has had eight cases.

States across the country are encountering a backlog of tests that means many people who have the virus are yet to be counted in official totals.

"The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is pursuing a strategic approach to testing in the state to steward our state and country’s scarce resources in the face of widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Colorado," the Colorado health department said in a March 18 statement. "CDPHE is sending testing resources to specific communities that have not yet had testing that will yield vital information about how the disease is spreading."

On March 19, the department planned to set up a testing site in Pueblo that will only serve
"high-risk patients who have been pre-selected by area health care providers" — not walk-up or drive-up patients.

No matter if they've been tested, CDPHE urges people to isolate themselves if they are experiencing any potential symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

This tool from ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, provides a sobering look at how the spread of the virus could overwhelm U.S. hospitals depending on what percentage of the population contracts COVID-19, and how quickly the virus spreads. It's based on estimates from the Harvard Global Health Institute.

In a best-case scenario — 20 percent of the U.S. population becomes infected over 18 months — the researchers involved in developing the tool say that the country's existing hospital beds would be about 95 percent full.

In the Colorado Springs hospital region, the ProPublica tool shows a shortage of beds in every case scenario. A moderate scenario — 40 percent of people infected over 12 months — would mean the Colorado Springs area needs twice the number of hospital beds currently available.

Separate emergency declarations by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, El Paso County Chair Mark Waller, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and President Donald Trump should free up funding for employees, businesses and families with children who've been affected by the coronavirus.

What exactly do the declarations mean?

This article by Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center, provides some insight into Trump's emergency declaration, issued March 13.

The Denver Post boiled down Polis' emergency powers under the statewide declaration issued March 11 in this article.

Waller's local disaster emergency declaration allows El Paso County to activate the Medical Reserve Corp., a network of volunteers. The declaration will also help providers obtain personal protective equipment, Waller said in a March 14 statement.

Suthers' emergency declaration, issued March 16, makes the city eligible for federal relief funding and gives the mayor more authority to take actions in response to the pandemic.

Other mayors have used emergency powers to close businesses, issue "shelter in place" orders, and freeze evictions, though Suthers hasn't yet taken such actions — the order to close restaurants, gyms, casinos, theaters, coffeehouses, cigar bars, brewpubs and distillery pubs came from Polis on March 16.

This is all the city code says about emergency response powers:

"The Mayor may promulgate regulations which the Mayor deems necessary to protect life and property and preserve critical resources. These regulations shall within fourteen (14) days of issuance, be posted at the Office of the City Clerk and other locations as the Mayor may determine, and may be disseminated to the print, radio, television and other electronic news media unless posting or dissemination would endanger the public or negatively impact security concerns. Emergency regulations may not suspend the provisions of the City Code, the suspension of City Code provisions being reserved to the City Council by emergency or other ordinance."
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Thursday, March 12, 2020

COVID-19: 33 cases in Colorado as of 3 p.m. March 11

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 12:08 PM

  • Shutterstock.com
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was counting 33 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. March 11.

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

So far, only one of Colorado's presumptive positive COVID-19 cases has been counted in El Paso County. The patient, a man in his 40s, had recently traveled within the United States, according to CDPHE.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. For most people, the symptoms are mild, but those with other medical complications are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms such as pneumonia.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency in Colorado on March 10 in order to "more effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid greater disruption."

With the declaration, the state will boost testing capacity for COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus), waive testing costs, launch drive-up labs for testing, and ensure paid leave for affected hospitality, food handling, child care, health care and education workers.

The state's first drive-up community testing lab opened March 11 in Denver, for patients with a doctor's order and photo ID.

Also on March 11, the state's Division of Motor Vehicles began allowing Coloradans 65 and older to renew their driver's licenses online for the duration of the governor's emergency order. Visit mydmv.colorado.gov for more information.

To reduce risks due to COVID-19, Colorado College announced March 10 that it will extend spring break by one week, through March 29.

Block 7 will begin March 30 with distance-learning classes only. (Instead of four-month semesters, the college schedules classes in 3.5-week blocks, with four days off in between blocks.) Before Block 8, the school will evaluate whether to have students return for in-person classes in May.

As of March 12, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was still operating normally, but information posted online describes precautionary measures for students who have recently traveled to countries with a high number of cases:

"UCCS Wellness Center staff contacted all individuals on campus from high risk areas to assess travel history and discuss symptoms to monitor for. They are also screening all patients who visit Health Services for travel history, possible exposures to COVID-19 and current illnesses when they come in for a visit."

Meanwhile, the Air Force Academy plans to close to visitors starting at 5 p.m. March 13.

"This restriction does not impact access for on-base residents, Air Academy High School students and faculty, Department of Defense ID card holders, or anyone conducting official business," the Academy said in a statement. "Gate hours also remain unchanged."

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, health experts urge people to:

- Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid directly touching frequently contacted surfaces, such as elevator buttons or door handles, in public spaces. (Use a tissue to cover your hand or finger if you have to touch something.)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.

Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit colorado.gov/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus.

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email COHELP@RMPDC.org for answers in English.
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