By Pam Zubeck

Testing continues to hogtie the state in determining where the COVID-19 virus is having the most impact, according to remarks by Mike Willis, state director of emergency management, at an afternoon media briefing on March 24.

Willis also said President Donald Trump’s consideration to lift stay home orders by April 12 would have some impact on Colorado but that Gov. Jared Polis “has quite a bit of authority.”

Generally, Willis was vague when fielding questions about personal protective equipment, testing and the virus’ spread.

Test turnaround times at the state lab have been between four to seven days, he said, and 400 tests per day are being processed. Private labs also are processing about 200 tests per day.

In the meantime, the latest numbers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show the virus continues to spread, now in 35 counties from 31 as of March 22. The number of cases increased to 912 as of March 23, compared to 720 cases on March 22.

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Eleven people have died, compared to seven as of March 22. But 7,701 tests have been processed, 24 percent more than on March 22. Those hospitalized total 84, compared to 72 the day before.

While Polis “fully supports” local stay home orders, such as in Denver, he’s resisted imposing such an order statewide and will decide on that depending on how effective the local orders appear to be, Willis said.

Noting it will “take some time” to build a testing strategy that would replace stay home orders, he said, “Once we build the mass testing capability, the governor hopes we can have a more narrow approach to social distancing and stay at home strategies.”

But he also noted that officials believe the case numbers are low simply because not enough people have been tested.

“It’s safe to assume the spread is greater than the actual numbers we have,” he said.

In other developments:

• The International Olympic Committee, citing the COVID-19 virus, announced March 24 that the Summer Olympics set to begin in Tokyo in July had been postponed for a year.

In an email to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland supported the IOC and International Paralympic Committee decisions.

“We know the decision was not made lightly, but with the safety and well-being of athletes and our communities around the world in mind,” she wrote in a message on the USOPC’s website. “It was the right decision. We recognize this presents more questions than answers at this time — the complexities of this new reality have never been experienced by this global community. We will get through this together. Our commitment to and focus on our mission has never been stronger.”

• Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers held a media briefing March 24 to remind people to use local parks responsibly. This means keeping 6 feet from others, not participating in team sports with close contact, not gathering in groups of 10 or more, and not touching surfaces that others have touched.

“With voluntary citizen cooperation, we can keep our parks open,” he said. “Without voluntary cooperation, we may need to revisit public access for some or all of our parks.” He said 14,000 people visited Garden of the Gods Park on Sunday.

City Councilor Bill Murray via email seems to disagree with keeping local parks open, as other national parks close down, including Yellowstone National Park. “National Parks are closing,” Murray says, “I believe there is a hint here of responsibility. The risk is clearly not worth the reward. Best of luck to all of us.”

Suthers says he’s not considering a stay-at-home order but would if told to do so by El Paso County Public Health.

• KKTV reports Teller County reported a man died of an illness in which COVID-19 contributed to his demise.

• Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, spoke to business leaders March 23 saying he advocates creating a new category of unemployment assistance for those whose livelihoods has been affected by the virus. The new category, he said, wouldn’t require somebody to be laid off or fired or furloughed, but would allow assistance through the unemployment insurance office for people who have had their hours reduced, or people who are at home because their place of work has temporarily closed. Gardner hopes this change would be part of a relief package that media reports indicate will be adopted soon.

• Starting this week, Rocky Mountain Public Media is providing educational resources for children across the state who have been affected by school closures. This initiative will provide all students with access to free educational resources at home, both on-air and online, regardless of their broadband access. RMPBS offers content on-air from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., for ages 6 and up. These programs include History Detectives, NOVA, Nature and other programs about science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. For children ages 2 and up, RMPBS offers Wild Kratts, Peg + Cat and SciGirls between 6 a.m.-8 a.m. For more, visit this website.

• Schriever Air Force Base announced March 23 the first positive test for COVID-19 and implemented restrictive measures.

On that same day, Peterson Air Force Base announced an active duty service member and a dependent tested positive. Both are quarantined and receiving support and medical care in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Force Health Protection and 21st Medical Group guidelines. The base also declared a public health state of emergency asking commanders to limit in-office activities to those that are required for critical mission accomplishment as determined by unit commanders.

Also on March 23, the Air Force Academy also announced stricter measures, implementing Health Protection Condition Charlie to combat the virus. Those include strict hygiene, no hand-shaking, frequent hand-washing, social distancing, limited meetings and mass gatherings. Telework is encouraged.

Fort Carson declared a public health emergency for the installation at 9 a.m. on March 24.

• Some think closing restaurants goes too far, including Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs.

• The town of Monument declared a formal local disaster emergency in response to the virus. The declaration allows Monument to seek mutual aid and potentially obtain reimbursement for expenses from other governments. Also, Monument’s town hall was closed last week.

• Centura Health has established drop-off boxes for Personal Protective Equipment. You can drop stuff off starting March 25 outside the front entrance of Penrose Hospital at 2222 N. Nevada Ave. from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The hospital is accepting boxed masks and N95s (singles and used items cannot be accepted), gloves still in manufacturer packaging, packaged gowns or rain ponchos with sleeves, face shields (must include eye protection and be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure face shields).
Regarding homemade masks, Centura says, “We are so amazed by the talented and giving members of our community offering to make homemade masks. As of today, per CDC guidelines, homemade masks are not considered PPE and should be only considered as a last resort. Therefore, Centura is not currently accepting these as donations.” But you can email to get a pattern and material specifications in case the policy changes.

• Discover Goodwill of Southern & Western Colorado and Goodwill Industries of Denver announced all retail stores and non-store donation centers closed March 24 and won’t reopen until April 6 due to the pandemic. In-store donation centers will remain open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, and items will be quarantined for at least 72 hours. Check for an array of items to purchase.

• The El Paso County GOP plans to hold its “drive-through” assembly on March 28. Get the details here.

• On a lighter note, NextDoor blog users suggest placing a stuffed toy in your home’s window so children on family walks can look for the animals as they go. A veritable bear hunt.