Tuesday, May 26, 2020

128 businesses share $900,000 in enterprise zone grant money

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 1:58 PM


Grants of up to $7,500 have been handed out by the El Paso County Economic Development Department to 128 businesses ranging from downtown's The Perk coffee shop ($2,000) to the Mountain Jackpot newspaper ($7,500), which serves Teller County but circulates in El Paso County and elsewhere.

County spokesperson Natalie Sosa also notes that the Jackpot application stated and certified that the business is located at 6636 Pine St, Green Mountain Falls, CO 80819 – in El Paso County.

The grants will go to motels, bars, restaurants, doctor offices, retailers and gyms as well as  pest control and stucco businesses and even a law office.
The grants totaled $900,000 and were awarded as part of the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone Small Business Relief Fund. A map of the enterprise zone can be found here.

"The goal of the community grant-funded program was to provide financial assistance to small businesses in the Enterprise Zone impacted by the coronavirus pandemic," the county said in a release.

The money came from citizen donations totaling $31,460 and $866,660 in federal money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (CARES Act).

Those who received grants have seen a decrease in business operation and workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "The money will help small businesses, struggling to sustain operations, with critical funding necessary to maintain their workforce and recover during and after this public health emergency," the release said. "Unlike loans, small businesses awarded this grant, won’t have to pay it back. They can use the funding for essential needs such as rent or mortgage assistance, utility payments, employee payroll, and payment of fixed debts."

Want to see which business got how much? Here's the list?
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Friday, May 22, 2020

Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend responsibly, officials say.

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2020 at 3:40 PM

  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs website
Thank goodness for three-day weekends. That's a sentiment whirling through everyone's mind as we anticipate the Memorial Day holiday, but there are a few things to keep in mind during the era of COVID-19.

First, the Pikes Peak Regional Joint Information Center reminds people who head for city and county parks, trails and open spaces:
• If a parking lot is full, find a new place. DO NOT create an unsafe situation by making your own parking space. Parks are generally most crowded between 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Playgrounds and pavilions remain closed
• Do not gather in groups larger than 10 people
• Continue hand washing and other good hygiene practices
• Wear a face covering when you’re not able to maintain 6 feet of distance in public
May 22 marks the first day of summer hours on Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain, the city says in a news release, noting that through Sept. 30, the gates open at 7:30 a.m. Last entry is at 6 p.m.

The mandatory shuttle service for guests begins May 22, as during the last two summers, due to construction of the Pikes Peak Summit Complex. Only vehicles with a disability placard or disability license plate and vehicles with young children in car seats will be allowed to park on the summit.

Also from the release:
In response to COVID-19, modifications are being applied to shuttle service. This includes physical distancing for all waiting lines, less than 50 percent capacity in each shuttle and increased cleaning and disinfection of shuttles throughout the day. For the safety of all staff and guests, face coverings are required for all guests riding the shuttle, drivers and parking attendants. Guests who do not have a face covering to use in the shuttle will only be allowed to drive to the 16-mile parking area. Face coverings are available for purchase at the gift shops.

Guests are encouraged to purchase admission tickets online in advance of their visit. There is a 20 percent discount for guests who purchase one-day admission tickets online during the month of May using discount code “May20.” As always, access is weather permitting and visitors should call 719-385-7325 for the most up-to-date road conditions. Refunds are not available.

In addition to the summit, there are other areas to explore on Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, including the North Slope Recreation Area, which features numerous opportunities for hiking, biking, as well as three reservoirs for fishing and boating. A free parking permit is required for access to the Catamount Reservoirs. These permits can be reserved online and a limited quantity is available at the Gateway on a first-come basis.

The South Slope Recreation Area is set to open June 4, weather permitting. Use of this area is by permit only. Registration opens May 28. It is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

U.S. Forest Service officials also remind Memorial Day recreationists to use these national resources wisely.

Before enjoying the outdoors, plan ahead, they say. Visitors are encouraged to check with local forest and grassland offices first.
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Thursday, May 21, 2020

COVID-19 roundup for May 21: July 4th concert and fireworks tradition to continue

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 5:11 PM

As of May 20, Colorado has seen 23,191 COVID-19 cases.

The state reports COVID-19 deaths in two ways: the number of people who died with COVID-19 (although COVID-19 may not have been the cause of death listed on the death certificate), and the number of people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 on a death certificate.

CDPHE was reporting 1,310 deaths of people who had COVID-19 when they died, and 1,062 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 through May 18.

Statewide, 139,937 people have been tested for the disease and 4,037 people have been hospitalized.

In El Paso County as of May 21, 1,451 COVID-19 cases have been reported; 240 people have hospitalized and 88 people have died.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
has awarded a total of $2.9 million to 59 rural health clinics in Colorado to expand COVID-19 testing access in rural communities.

The funding comes from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act and is in addition to the $159 million provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, more than $11.7 million provided by HHS earlier this month to Colorado community health centers, and more than $10 million provided by the CDC in April to increase Colorado’s testing capability.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic
and Colorado Springs Sports Corporation have created a plan to bring the annual Fourth of July concert and fireworks to residents across El Paso County.

"Instead of a limited crowd being the only group to enjoy the holiday, residents will be able to stay home, stay healthy and continue to enjoy fireworks being displayed at nine locations throughout the Pikes Peak region," Mayor John Suthers said.

With crowd gathering restrictions impacting large-scale special events during the pandemic, the annual Fourth of July Symphony in the Park in Memorial Park won’t take place this year.

But the tradition will continue with a patriotic concert being broadcast as fireworks light up the night sky.

Residents are encouraged to celebrate the Fourth of July from their porches and look to one of the nine locations displaying fireworks while tuning their radios to Sunny 106.3 FM, Y96.9 FM, KCME 88.7 FM, 92.9 Peak FM or AM 740 KVOR to hear the concert broadcast.

The fireworks will be broadcast by KKTV with live reports and footage from select fireworks locations.

“The Colorado Springs Philharmonic has been performing for the city's residents on the Fourth of July for 47 years and is pleased to continue this tradition in ways that will reach the broader community," Philharmonic President and CEO Nathan Newbrough said.

The following locations will be hosting fireworks displays, weather permitting, with restricted onsite access:
  • Banning Lewis Ranch
  • Falcon Freedom Days at Meridian Ranch
  • James Irwin Charter Schools
  • Patty Jewett Golf Course
  • The Broadmoor
  • The Club at Flying Horse
  • Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field
  • The Country Club of Colorado at Cheyenne Mountain Resort
  • Fort Carson

These shows will be visible to residents at their homes across the region. For details, visit CS4thofJuly.org. As part of the event, people can make donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to support those on the front lines in Southern Colorado. Click here to learn more or to make a donation.

“Our goal is to not only coordinate a countywide celebration, but also honor the health care workers, first responders, military and those front-line warriors who work tirelessly to keep the Pikes Peak region safe," Sports Corp President and CEO Tom Osborne said. "This community has really come together to see the Fourth of July still happens in spite of recent events."

Proceeds from the sale of official "4th of July Symphony on your Porch" merchandise will also be donated to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

Pikes Peak International Raceway will honor the Class of 2020 with an event called Cruise to the Finish, to help make up for graduation festivities canceled because of the pandemic.

The two-day celebration, set for June 11 and 12, will offer seniors, with friends and family as passengers, the opportunity to drive PPIR’s oval course in their own vehicles.

A limited number of cars will be allowed on the track in one-hour increments.

Cost of $15 per driver includes a laminated driver credential, three laps around the course led by a NASCAR pace car, a photo opportunity inside victory lane to commemorate the experience and entry into a variety of sponsor giveaways. Buddy and spectator passes will be available to purchase for nondrivers.

Find more details and purchase tickets at PPIR.com.

A new report from TOP Data shows that new jobs are being posted in Colorado as the state's businesses reopen.

Colorado has seen a 1.75 percent increase in available jobs since May 8, compared with a similar period in April. That increase, however, was lower than the national average increase of 3.65 percent.

Colorado ranks 18th among the top 20 states for the number of jobs available per 100,000 residents, with an average of 830 vacant positions. Of those, 642 were entry-level jobs, 129 were mid-level positions and 68 were senior-level openings.

During the previous period, April 22-May 8, job openings in Colorado dropped 2.39 percent. Nationwide, job availability climbed 0.16 percent.

According to the report, released May 19, job postings nationwide have declined 33.7 percent since 2019. There are one-third fewer jobs available than there were at this time last year, and there are nearly four times as many job seekers.

However, hiring is still happening across the country, the report says, and job postings should increase as some shops and businesses reopen.

TOP Data used job listings April and May job listing data from Indeed.com to extract job openings in specific geographical areas. View the report here.
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Investigation rules in Commissioner Mark Waller's favor on residency issue

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 2:05 PM

Waller lives in his commissioner district, an investigation concluded. - COURTESY MARK WALLER
  • Courtesy Mark Waller
  • Waller lives in his commissioner district, an investigation concluded.
There is insufficient evidence that El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller has vacated his home in District 2, which would require he step down from his commissioner role. That was the May 21 ruling by District Attorney Jeff Chostner of Pueblo’s 10th Judicial District.

Chostner took the case in a referral from the 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May’s office. May sought the referral because he supports Waller’s opponent, his Deputy DA Michael Allen, in the June 30 primary race for the Republican DA nomination. The report says tax-limitation advocate Doug Bruce filed the complaint at the behest of former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who did not return a call or email seeking comment.

The investigative report doesn't indicate exactly how Waller's residency was called into question other than saying Bensberg became aware Waller had gone through a divorce and moved. Bensberg then told former Colorado Springs Councilor Helen Collins. Though he said he never talked with Doug Bruce, Bruce told the investigator he filed the complaint at Bensberg's request. Both Bensberg and Colorado Springs City Councilor Gaebler contacted Chostner's office and later were interviewed.

Gaebler told Chostner’s investigator she supports Allen and that, although she didn’t report the residency issue to May’s office, “We [which are not identified in the report] were looking and we were planning to do something like get it out there just to make him look like you know he wasn’t a very good county commissioner... . It was going to be something to make him look bad.”

Asked to comment on the findings, Gaebler said in an email, “I haven’t seen all the evidence in this investigation, so I can’t comment on whether the outcome is appropriate, but as I said in the investigation, no matter where Mark Waller is living, he is either defrauding the Veteran’s [sic] Administration or the citizens living in his commission district. He isn’t an ethical person, and should not be our next district attorney.”

Waller obtained a Veterans Affairs-backed loan to buy a home at 603 Pioneer Haven Point in Palmer Lake last fall. The VA loan requires the borrower to occupy the house within 60 days of closing. Government agencies rarely disclose when an investigation is underway, so it’s not publicly known if the VA is aware of or concerned about the circumstances of Waller's loan.

Chostner didn’t rule on that point, telling the Indy via email, “That is an issue for the VA to look into. They can determine whether he’s entitled to the loan or not; and if not, then it is a federal matter for them to resolve.”

According to the 10-page investigative report, Waller spent time with his girlfriend at a home he purchased last year outside his district in Palmer Lake, but his official address lies within his county commissioner district at 7116 Mustang Rim.

Waller’s residency was established through interviews with neighbors, mail addressed to him on Mustang Rim, his driver’s license bearing that address, and a series of rent checks for that house, along with the lease for the Mustang Rim property.

Gaebler discussed the issue with Allen’s campaign, she told investigator Darren Kochis. She said they were “Trying to plan what... what we thought would be most harmful to his election campaign.” She also said “the campaign” told her the case had been filed but that she didn’t know who filed it.

According to the 10th Judicial District’s report, Gaebler conducted something of an investigation herself, gathering information to show Waller spends most of his time at the Palmer Lake home. She also apparently drove by the house, noting there was a Christmas tree in the window in December, and dug for photos on social media that would prove he lived there. She also claimed that Waller’s home on Mustang Rim was sublet to someone else.

“Gaebler said she would send me a detailed list [of evidence] which she later did,” the report said.

Gaebler said she and former County Commissioner Bensberg both worked to expose Waller’s living arrangement. Bensberg told the investigator he went to the Mustang Rim house and a man who answered the door described himself as “kinda his roommate,” meaning Waller’s. (Waller previously told the Indy he took in a roommate to help pay the rent.)

Bensberg said he shared his suspicions with Collins but didn’t talk to Doug Bruce, Collins’ friend, about it. But Bruce later told the investigator he obtained the information from Bensberg and then filed the complaint with the DA’s Office, because “Bensberg preferred to be out of this.”

Bensberg, however, told the investigator his relationship with Waller could be described as “political friends.”

Waller didn't respond to a request for comment. Allen declined to comment.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected. The organization is Veteran's Affairs. Not Veteran's Administration.

Read the report:
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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Some El Paso County residents refuse to cooperate on COVID-19 contact tracing

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 5:51 PM

Data on COVID-19 infections in the county can be found on the Public Health dashboard. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • Data on COVID-19 infections in the county can be found on the Public Health dashboard.
Since businesses began to reopen after the state's month-long stay-at-home order imposed in March, angry messages from citizens have prompted El Paso County to beef up security of its offices, though no outright threats have been received, according to an advisory memo to Colorado Springs City Council obtained by the Indy.

In addition, more outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus have emerged, and it's rate of spread has more than doubled from 2.5 persons per infected person to nearly 7. Meantime, contact tracing experts at the county have encountered resistance from people who refuse to cooperate.

Moreover, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is causing spread in the Spanish-speaking community at a rate that has overtaken El Paso County Public Health's capacity to deal with those cases, and more bilingual investigators are being hired.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says this county's officials haven't had threats of violence against individuals. "However, there have been direct threats on other public health directors in the state," he says. "In Teller County, that public health director has had significantly aggressive threats." Her critics have even set up a website, smearing her and demanding she be fired, he says.

At Tri-County Department of Health, vandalism has occurred, he says, adding, "Almost every public health department is under siege."

"The temperament of a small vocal minority has grown more aggressive to public health," he says. "Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, we're working with the sheriff to provide security for Board of County Commissioner meetings and Public Health."

As troublesome, Kelly says, "We have had increasing resistance from individual who tested positive to cooperate with contact tracing.

"Businesses have been fully cooperative," he notes. "But we've had multiple individuals who have refused to answer questions — where they could have gotten it from and who else could be at risk. This, unfortunately, has been turned into a political issue."

Kelly notes that contact tracing is voluntary, and the identity of those infected aren't shared with others. "The part people don't get is the people you spend time around are people you care about, so those are the people we need to reach out to. I can't comprehend how someone would refuse to cooperate with voluntary questions that could save the lives of the people they care about most. It's hard. You're doing everything you can to get everybody where they want to go. It's like somebody's house is burning down and they want us to save it and they're throwing rotten tomatoes at us."

As for the spread to more people by each infected person, Kelly that's to be expected as people return to their jobs and get out and about.

"It's an important number to monitor. It's driven by number of people gathering in those interactions," he says. "Parties of 30 or more [elsewhere, not in El Paso County] has resulted in rapid, out of control spread, more than health departments and hospitals can handle."

Kelly called the lack of contact trace investigators for the Spanish speaking community "a big one."

The county started with one such investigator and has already added three. "But this week, it's clear that's not adequate. That's an area of focus for hiring immediately. We need to get to capacity and we need to do it yesterday."

The memo, sent May 20 to Council by Deputy Council Administrator Michael Montgomery, responded to questions posed by Councilor David Geislinger on May 16.

It said that threats and vandalism have led to increased security of county buildings as such activity has increased across the state. "In EPC [El Paso County] we have received expressions of anger and frustration but have not received direct threats to date," the memo said. "Watching what is happening in other jurisdictions, we are not waiting to engage in conversations regarding safety and security for our staff, facilities and clients. We have worked closely with EPSO [El Paso County Sheriff's Office] to increase security/monitoring of EPCPH [Public Health] facilities and we coordinate in advance when our Leadership are reporting out at public venues."

County commissioners have entertained dozens of citizens at recent commission meetings who demand businesses reopen to satisfy their right to assemble and move about as they please.

When non-essential business were forced to shutter between late March and May 1, outbreaks were largely confined to long-term care facilities. But Public Health has seen outbreaks emerge in construction and manufacturing, the memo said.

"Other counties throughout the state have also reported outbreaks in construction so our communicable disease epidemiology team is raising this as a potential area for increased activity," the memo said. "Our team tries to identify and interview cases early so that we can stop transmission and prevent large community-wide outbreaks. As we work with different business sectors we also engage our environmental health team so that we can make recommendations to reduce transmission in these settings."

In recent days, Public Health identified outbreaks, defined as two or more cases, at a Goodwill thrift store, McDonald's, Safeway, Walmart, Schommer Construction and Springs Fabrication.

The spread pre-reopening was determined to be from 2.5 to 2.8 people per infected person. After reopening began, the spread has grown to 6.8 contacts per case. Still, that's still substantially lower than the trigger point at which the county is willing to rethink the waiver's provisions. From the waiver application: "A median of 11 contacts per confirmed case will be considered as a threshold for review of this variance."

Public Health has bolstered its workforce with Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs BethEl student nurses and faculty, county coroner staff and additional staffing to be hired with money from the CARES Act.

Equally troubling is more cases emerging from the Spanish speaking community. While Public Health dealt with those cases early on with one specialist who spoke Spanish and interviewed Spanish-speaking infected persons, "Currently we have 4 investigators assigned to Spanish speaking clients and that capacity is being exceeded," the memo said. It added the agency plans to contract for more investigators who can reach out to Spanish speakers.

Regardless, county commissioners are seeking a waiver to allow re-opening of the hard-hit restaurant industry. They noted in the waiver application, "At this time El Paso county has adequate resources and surge capacity to contain and treat additional cases that may arise from limited on-premise dining in restaurants."

Although the application states that hospitals support the waiver, officials with UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Children's Hospital wrote that they relied on numbers provided by the county and that their facilities currently have hospital capacity to care for patients based on the "current infection data."

Centura Health gave a more broad approval, saying its hospitals are "prepared to serve COVID-19 patients in El Paso County."

County commissioners unanimously approved applying for a waiver from the state's safer-at-home order, imposed in late April under which some restrictions of the stay-home order have been eased, though restaurants and bars are to remain closed to dine-in customers.

Review the county's application here:

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Southeast Express chosen for Colorado Media Project initiative

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 2:40 PM


The nonprofit Southeast Express, a sister publication of the Indy, has been chosen to participate in the Colorado Media Project’s 2020 Informed Communities project. It’s one of 10 newsrooms across the state to receive the recognition and comes with a grant to be used between now and October to grow COVID-19 coverage for diverse populations.

“What that means for the Express is we will start pushing hard on bilingual news and information,” Express founding editor and general manager Regan Foster said. “My hope is by offering Spanish as well as English coverage we will not only reach more readers with the critical details they need right now, but set a precedent on which we can capitalize down the road.” 

The participation also gives the newspaper, in its second year, access to the entire Colorado Media Project, which connects Colorado newsrooms to resources and each other, “essentially building a wire network for the Express to share our content (stories, video and photos included) and access content from other members across the state,” she said. 

The CMP is backed by the Gates Family Foundation and Democracy Fund, among others. Go to coloradomediaproject.com for more information.

Editor's note: This story originally misnamed the Gates Family Foundation. We regret the error.
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Google trends in mental health terms

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 2:38 PM

  • Shutterstock

“Suicide” is the most Googled mental health term in Colorado, according to a trend identified by TermLife2Go, a team of life insurance experts that relied on mental health sites such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and MentalHealth.gov to search common terminology.

When broken down, the study showed the that “suicide” was also the most Googled term in each metro area in Colorado. People in Alaska also searched “suicide” more than any other term.

“We ran each of the terms through Google Trends to identify which mental health concerns were searched most frequently in each state over the past year,” TermLife2Go said in a release. “With all the fear and anxiety that is surrounding the current pandemic, mental health is top of mind for many U.S. citizens as they shelter in place.”

New Yorkers, Texans and Floridians most frequently searched “intimacy issues,” while Californians focused on “loneliness.” See the whole report here: tinyurl.com/Psych-words.

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10 stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:55 AM

  • Alissa Smith

On May 14, the public was invited to the construction site of the new downtown stadium, future home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer club. The stadium’s final steel beam, painted cyan in honor of the team’s colors, was set up for fans to sign, so they could be a part of the stadium’s construction. The beam was installed the next day in a topping ceremony, featuring a commemoration speech by Mayor John Suthers.

Colorado Springs is drilling holes in downtown parking spaces to install sensors that will “communicate” between the meter and a mobile payment app as part of its new “smart parking meters” program.

On May 12, Michael Roach, 45, jailed on multiple felony charges, was found at the Criminal Justice Center trying to hang himself. Despite life-saving efforts by staff, he died. It was the CJC's third inmate death by suicide since June 2019.

Springs-based anti-doping agency Partnership for Clean Competition and Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City teamed with Major League Baseball and Stanford University to produce the first nationwide study for COVID-19 antibodies. The study’s results suggest there are roughly seven times more antibody carriers than confirmed cases in the United States.

Ray Marshall, developer of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, saw charges dismissed May 14 in a case accusing him of stealing money from the largely city-funded deal, The Gazette reports.

Goodwill of Colorado temporarily closed its store and donation center at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. on May 17 after three employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce that it won’t set limits on perchlorate, a contaminant found in rocket fuel that has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage, The New York Times reports. Local waterways have been tested for perchlorate in the past.

Rocky Mountain PBS has daily literacy lessons for kindergarten through third grade. Monday-Friday from 8 to 10 a.m., or streamable online at rmpbs.org/ColoradoClassroom.

City staff project a $4.7 million revenue shortfall for the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, according to figures presented at a May 14 meeting of the LART Advisory Committee. Through LART, the city assesses a 2 percent tax on lodging and a 1 percent tax on car rentals.


The city erected a speakers box in City Council chambers to protect against the spread of COVID-19, but the acoustics proved “absolutely terrible,” Councilor Andy Pico reports.The city removed the guard and the clear barriers will be reused, with more screen guards, along the entire dais to create divisions between Councilors so all can attend meetings in-person rather than some by video-conference. The cost of materials for all sneeze guards in the Council chambers came to $320, the city says.

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Local jails best prisons at social distancing

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:53 AM

  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office

Nationwide, local jails have done far more than state prisons to cut their populations in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, according to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative. 

The report shows that while state prisons have cut populations by an average of 5 percent (7 percent in Colorado), the typical jail has accomplished a 30 percent reduction.

In response to advocates demanding he commute the sentences of state  prisoners, Gov. Jared Polis equated prisons  to college dormitories, which have been mostly emptied. “If anyone is looking to COVID-19 as an excuse to let dangerous criminals out, then they have the wrong governor,” he said at the May 8 news conference.

The El Paso County Criminal Justice Center was not included in the report. However, a spokesperson tells the Indy that the jail reduced its average daily population by 30 percent, or around 510 inmates, between February and May. 

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50-unit complex to house formerly homeless

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:52 AM

The Commons, a permanent supportive housing development proposed by Homeward Pikes Peak, will need tax credit funding. - COURTESY OF EBERSOLDT AND ASSOCIATES
  • Courtesy of Ebersoldt and Associates
  • The Commons, a permanent supportive housing development proposed by Homeward Pikes Peak, will need tax credit funding.

Local nonprofit Homeward Pikes Peak announced it has been selected to receive funding for a new permanent supportive housing development dubbed The Commons, set to open sometime in early 2022. 

The 50-unit facility will house formerly homeless families and individuals near The Citadel mall.

The nonprofit and its partners received a federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit funding award, which required a competitive application process conducted by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

“HPP is so proud to develop this housing for our community,” Beth Hall Roalstad, the executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, said in a statement. “The recent pandemic illustrates even more how vulnerable families and individuals are when they do not have safe, stable and affordable housing.” 

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Dining and graduation rules move forward in county

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:51 AM

  • Shutterstock.com

On May 14, El Paso County Commissioners unanimously approved an application to the state to reopen dine-in service at restaurants, and also received word that the county’s plans to hold graduation ceremonies have been given the green light.

Dine-in requirements would include ensuring 6 feet between occupied seats, limiting group seating to 10 from the same household or social group, taking reservations (walk-ins accepted), and if possible recording names and phone numbers of customers for 21 days. No bar seating is permitted without 6-foot distancing. Multiple-use condiment containers are prohibited; also banned are self-serve buffets. Masks must be worn by employees who come within 6 feet of customers and other workers, unless masks would impact the employees’ health.

Also on May 14, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment approved the county’s request to hold graduation ceremonies. Students are encouraged to avoid vulnerable persons for two weeks following their participation in a graduation ceremony, and communication to students should include a recommendation that they not participate if a family member is considered vulnerable. Other rules include the practice of social distancing measures and no attendance by extended family members.

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ACLU sues CSPD, claiming racially biased policing

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:51 AM

  • Shutterstock

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a lawsuit May 15 in a Denver federal court against the city of Colorado Springs and three Colorado Springs police officers alleging they violated the Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable detention and search in the case of Corey Barnes.

The lawsuit alleges officers targeted and detained Barnes without cause because he’s black. He didn’t match the description of a person officers were searching for in May of 2018.

“Even after a fellow officer advised that Mr. Barnes was not the suspect, the officers failed to release him,” ACLU Staff Attorney Arielle Herzberg said in a release. “Instead, they kept him handcuffed, searched his pockets and wallet, and called in a warrants check before releasing him.”

The lawsuit also claims Springs police have shown a “longstanding pattern of racially biased policing” and exhibit racial disparity in traffic stops, arrests and uses of force.

The city declined to comment.

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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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In El Paso County, COVID-19 bypasses the eastern plains

Posted By and on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 2:22 PM

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 82 people across El Paso County, but has killed only two people in the north and none in the less populated eastern reaches of the county, according to recently released data.

Two restaurants in Calhan on the county's eastern plains — Karen's Kafe and Stephanie's Bar & Grill — defied public health cease-and-desist orders after reopening in recent weeks for dine-in business before the "safer-at-home" governor's order allowed. Although El Paso County Public Health issued that order, the restaurants remained open May 18. When the Indy called to ask why, a woman who answered the phone said, "Just call Public Health about all that."

We asked El Paso County Public Health why the eateries remain open. "Public Health has been continuing to work with the business to educate on the Safer at Home Order, provide outreach, and help the business achieve voluntary compliance," Public Health public information officer Michelle Hewitt says via email.

Meantime, Hewittit says it's hard to glean a meaning from deaths when they're charted geographically by ZIP code, as requested by the Indy.

She warns that the data set, which reports deaths through May 15, does not speak to the location of disease exposure.

"Any information or conclusions that utilize this data should include contextual facts," she writes in an email. "For example, approximately 50% of El Paso County COVID-19 deaths are associated with long-term care facilities."

ZIP codes 80909 and 80910 in central Colorado Springs had the most deaths, with 30 combined. The 80919 ZIP code, the city's northwest side, also had seen double-digit deaths. All three of those ZIP code areas host long-term care facilities on the list of eight locations of outbreaks in El Paso County.

"Please also note," she adds, "that while the zip code is an important fact, it does not tell the full story of infection. We consider other factors such as place of work, infection sources, outbreak and social contacts as important and other pieces of the puzzle."

Here's a list of ZIP codes. While 82 have died, one death does not contain an applicable ZIP code data point, Hewitt says.

We mapped the data, as seen below. ZIP codes with fewer than five deaths are displayed with a blue marker, those with five to nine deaths are shown with a yellow marker, and those with 10 or more have a red marker.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Springs' Peterson Air Force Base lands provisional HQ for U.S. Space Force

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 4:30 PM


In a race to comment on the announcement today that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs will be the provisional headquarters for the newly formed U.S. Space Force for the next six years, elected officials lauded the choice and expressed hope that the decision will be made permanent soon.

From Governor Jared Polis: “This is great news for our state and I will continue urging the President and the Air Force to make Colorado the permanent home of U.S. Space Command. Colorado is home to a proud military community, a critical aerospace industry, an educated workforce, and prestigious research institutions so we are the natural and best home for U.S. Space Command.”

A final decision will come in January 2021.

Mayor John Suthers said in a statement that without question, "Colorado Springs is the most appropriate location for Space Command.

"This is a city with a long and proud military history, an incredible amount of infrastructure and a wealth of experience and talent in regard to the military in space," he said.

State Senator Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, issued a statement saying no other installation is better equipped to host Space Command, and State Senator Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, called the decision "the right call" and "a natural fit here for Colorado Springs.”

State Reps. Tony Exum, Sr. and Marc Snyder, both Democrats from the Pikes Peak Region, issued statements as well.

“Colorado Springs has always attracted talented men and women from around the country looking to serve their country,” Exum, of Colorado Springs, said. “It just makes sense that the fine servicemen and women in the U.S. Space Command will call the Springs home too."

Said Snyder of Manitou Springs, "I hope and expect that the Space Command will set down roots in Colorado and continue its operations from our state for years to come.”

Local officials have previously told local media that Space Command would bring potential for 1,000 new jobs and up to $1 billion in military construction.
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