Colorado confirms 5 more coronavirus death as positive cases surpass 1,400

Colorado health officials on Thursday announced 24 people in the state have now died in connection with the novel coronavirus, with more than 1,400 now testing positive for the highly infectious respiratory illness.

The new count of 1,430 total cases is a 344-case increase over Wednesday’s statewide total and includes 184 people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19. There have been nine outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities.

And more than 10,000 people have now been tested, as the state lab and private companies have increased capacity in recent days. The number of confirmed cases are still far below the actual totals, state health officials and Gov. Jared Polis have said.

The deaths have impacted communities from the Front Range to the high country. Boulder and Pitkin counties on Thursday announced their first deaths related to the illness, although it’s unclear if those individuals were counted in the state’s latest numbers.

Pitkin County health officials identified the man as a 94-year-old with underlying medical issues who died in his home Tuesday in Aspen. The Boulder County resident was identified as a Lafayette resident in their 60s with underlying medical issues.

“Our hearts are heavy having learned of this first death in our community’s struggle against the spread of COVID-19,” Karen Koenemann, director of Pitkin County Public Health, said in a news release. “We especially want the family of the victim to know how sorry we are. We know our community will support each other with kindness and compassion in recognition of the significance of this loss.”

Thursday marked the first day of the state’s mandatory stay-at-home order, announced by Polis on Wednesday, which restricts movement for all residents who do not perform essential duties. Several counties — including Boulder, Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — on Thursday rescinded their own orders, alleviating any confusion residents may have about which order to follow.

Much like with any law, counties are still allowed to enact heavier restrictions than the state if they so choose. But they are not allowed to mandate fewer restrictions on business closures or enforcement measures, Mike Willis, the state’s director of the Office of Emergency Management, said in a conference call with reporters.

State and local health officials say, as of Thursday, there are no surges in coronavirus cases at any Colorado hospitals — but it may be a case of the calm before the storm.

“The big question: How big is the storm going to be?” Dr. Brian Erling, president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs, said during a community meeting Thursday. “We believe we can keep that storm to an absolute minimum.”

Like many hospitals around the state, Pemrose-St. Francis has postponed elective surgeries, meaning the hospital is only at 60% capacity, Early said.

“We have units essentially shut down,” he said, “ready to surge up if needed.”

The state on Thursday also announced an effort to provide tests for health care workers and first-responders, who have been inundated by patients, often without proper personal protection equipment. In a conference call, state officials announced 5,000 test kits have arrived from the Department of Health and Humans Services exclusively for health care workers and first responders. Another 2.500 are expected next week, to be doled out at yet-to-be-announced times in the northern and southern parts of the state, as well as the Western Slope.

“The longer we can protect those people, the stronger our health care system is and the longer it can last… when the surge comes,” Willis said.

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