COVID-19 update for April 29: Polis elaborates on Colorado’s testing plan

As of 4 p.m. April 29, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 14,758 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Statewide, there have been 2,621 hospitalizations and 766 deaths. (That data is current through April 28.)

El Paso County has had 907 cases of COVID-19 and 69 deaths.

Gov. Jared Polis provided more detail on Colorado’s plan for expanded testing during the “safer-at-home” phase of the pandemic, guided by public health orders at the state level.

The state aims to conduct between 5,000 and 10,000 tests each day during the month of May, Polis said.

Although the state has started a gradual reopening of businesses and other locations, local city and county parks officials say that they don’t expect to implement dramatic changes anytime soon.

People should not gather in parks or other outdoor recreation areas in groups of greater than 10, should wear masks and should maintain physical distance of 6 feet from others when possible. Basketball courts and the like remain open for team sports — but only members of the same household should be playing together, officials say.

Pikes Peak region residents may see a few tweaks to outdoor policies in the near future, however.

El Paso County will be reopening its park restrooms next week, said Tim Wolken, the county’s community services director.

On city golf courses, people will probably be able to resume using golf carts starting May 1, said Karen Palus, director of city Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. She adds that carts should only be used by one person at a time. Some fishing areas will also reopen May 1.

The city’s Sertich Ice Center, pools and visitors centers, as well as playgrounds, will remain closed, Palus said. Some community centers have reopened for food distribution by appointment only. Parks officials are also asking the public to avoid using popular parks during the busiest time of day — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. — to keep parking spaces open and provide better opportunity for social distancing.

One new tool to help with that: the “Get Out — Spread Out” webpage on the Trails and Open Space Coalition site.

The webpage includes information on 100 lesser-known parks and trails in the Colorado Springs area, to encourage people to “get out of their comfort zone” by checking out a less busy location, said Susan Davies, executive director of TOSC.

The Colorado Division of Insurance urges uninsured people to take advantage of a special enrollment period to sign up for individual health insurance on the state-run exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.

The special period, instituted in response to COVID-19, ends April 30.

“In the midst of this pandemic, there are many uncertainties, but what we do know is that people with health insurance will be in a better position to get through this,” Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway said in a statement from the Division of Insurance.

“They are more likely to seek treatment for their medical needs – whether those be chronic conditions or emergency situations like COVID-19,” he added. “And they are less likely to suffer huge financial hits from large hospital bills.”

Contact Connect for Health at 855-752-6749 or visit ConnectforHealthCO.com to enroll. The website also features a Quick Cost & Plan Finder tool where Coloradans can check eligibility for financial assistance and find plans.

Health insurance coverage starts May 1 for anyone enrolling during this period, the statement said.

Following the loss of a job, affected Coloradans have a 60-day window to enroll in individual coverage at any point in the year. “A change in income or a person’s living situation may also trigger such enrollment windows,” the statement said. 

The Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Decision Day, a campaign that “celebrates the importance of higher education,” will become a “Decision Season” that extends through the month of May, according to a statement from CDHE.

On May 1, Virtual Decision Day, Coloradans are encouraged to wear clothing from their “alma mater, favorite school, or future program to rally in support of students on their path to postsecondary success.”

People of all ages can support the campaign by posting pictures and videos on social media tagging @cohighered and @mycojourney, with #DecisionDayCO and #DecisionSZN.

The Department of Homeland Security launched the “Operation Stolen Promise” web page to inform the public of COVID-19-related fraud schemes, and highlight efforts by Homeland Security Investigations to “counter threats posed by individuals and criminal organizations seeking to exploit the pandemic for illicit financial gain,” according to a statement.

HSI’s S.T.O.P COVID-19 Fraud campaign, part of Operation Stolen Promise, provides facts and tips for the public on coronavirus-related scams.

For example:

– Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or texts.
– When surfing the web, ensure your browser connection is secure by using “https” websites only. (The lock icon in your address bar also means a site is secure.)

People are encouraged to report potential fraud by emailing COVID19FRAUD@DHS.GOV.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 long-term care facilities, called for state and federal governments to provide “expanded and priority testing for nursing homes and assisted living communities” and “emergency funding to help the profession respond to the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 in long term care facilities across the country.”

AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson also asked the federal government to establish an emergency response fund for long-term care facilities, similar to the fund that’s been set up for hospitals.

“Our profession has been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks, but we have largely been forgotten by the public health sector,” Parkinson said in a statement. “If we are not made a top priority, this situation will get worse with the most vulnerable in our society being lost.”

As of April 29, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reporting 157 outbreaks at non-hospital facilities such as nursing homes. That includes nine outbreaks in El Paso County.

The state Unified Command Center conducted testing at Colorado’s three largest long-term care facilities between April 19 and 23, and “is planning to conduct preemptive testing of staff at four more facilities that do not have known outbreaks,” according to a statement.

Reporter

Faith Miller is a Colorado Springs native and a 2018 graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Miller’s past experience includes a multiplatform editing internship at the Los Angeles Times.