Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Thursday that, while he hopes citizens will continue to comply voluntarily with Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order, citizens who violate the order may be subject to “criminal prosecution.”
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Suthers said the city will issue “an escalating system of warnings, but if somebody refuses to comply, they will be subject to criminal prosecution.”
Suthers, El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller and medical experts from UCHealth and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services urged people to comply with the order to stay home, issued by the governor yesterday.
“The hope is that the stay-at-home order escalates in importance in people’s minds,” Suthers said, adding that “the vast majority have been in compliance. … I’m pretty confident that we’ll get widespread compliance. If not, we’ll escalate to do what is necessary.”
Suthers said enforcement options would include monitoring the city’s parks.
“We are redeploying school resources officers and park rangers to our parks to educate and discourage gatherings and other unsafe behavior,” he said. “But the truth is, we need everyone’s cooperation.”
Neither Suthers nor Waller knew about the stay-at-home order in advance.
“That’s been one of our frustrations,” Waller said. “I wish our governor would do a little bit better job, quite frankly, of communicating with local elected officials.”
Waller said El Paso County parks will remain open for the time being, except for some areas such as playgrounds.
“It’s our hope that those don’t have to be closed down as we move forward through this process,” Waller said. “But we need every citizen’s help here. … The way we’re going to be able to keep those parts open is if everybody complies with those [social distancing] requirements that have been set forth by the state and by the CDC.”
Dr. Brian Erling, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services president and CEO, and Dr. David Steinbruner, emergency physician at UCHealth, said strategies have been put in place to try and prevent their hospitals being overwhelmed.
Both said their systems have halted elective surgeries and pushing back procedures that can be delayed.
“We are getting ourselves in a position where the hospitals are ready to take certain very critical patients if possible,” Steinbruner said. “We don’t know exactly what that looks like, and we’re trying to model with the public health department about what that is based on data as it comes in. But we believe strongly that by doing the social distancing, by staying at home, and by doing the things that we’re being asked to do right now, we are going to be able to ride this out much more effectively and be able to take those citizens who are at most at risk of getting extremely sick.”
Erling said Penrose-St. Francis facilities are running at about a 60 percent capacity by canceling elective surgeries.
“We’re doing only about 10-15 percent of what we would normally,” he said. “We have units that we have essentially shut down that we are ready to surge up when the capacity is needed.
“we are likening this to the calm before the storm,” Erling said. “The big question is, how big a storm is it going to be? And we believe that with all the strategies that we’re putting in place as a community, that we can keep that storm to an absolute minimum.”
Hospitals in El Paso County, as elsewhere, are running short on personal protective equipment, Erling said.
Penrose Hospital is accepting donations of equipment in a drop-off box outside Penrose Hospital, and UCHealth has partnered with Project C.U.R.E and Children’s Hospital for a PPE drive from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 29, at UCHealth Park – Home of the Rocky Mountain Vibes, 4385 Tutt Blvd.
According to a news release from UCHealth, the following items are being sought and will be distributed to all hospitals in the Colorado Springs area:
• Eye protection & goggles
• Face shields
• Surgical masks
• Sterile & non-sterile gloves
• Disposable gowns
• N95 masks
• Sanitation wipes
• Personal wipes
Asked how hospitals were deciding who is tested for COVID-19, Erling said, “We started to get inundated very early on, and it wasn’t so much capacity, it was test kits. So we were only testing those patients who were sick enough to be admitted to the hospital.”
More tests are now available, he said, “but we have more than 50 patients in the hospital right now who are waiting to get a test result The average is seven days, and we have outliers that are more than 10 days waiting for a test result. We’ve taken a very conservative approach … until we have tests that are turning around more rapidly. … And so what I’ll do is test you as you come into the hospital, if you’re being admitted .”
Other developments on March 26:
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed 1,430 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths throughout the state, including 127 cases and seven deaths in El Paso County through March 25. Positive cases include people who have tested positive as well as individuals for whom there is a high likelihood that they have COVID-19. The department stated on its website that 10,122 people have been tested for the virus and that 184 patients have been hospitalized. There have been nine outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities.
The Department of Public Health and Environment also issued a release listing critical workplaces that are exempt from the state stay-at-home order. They include:
• Health care operations
• Critical infrastructure, including utilities, fuel supply and transmission, public water, telecommunications, transportation, hotels, organizations that provide for disadvantaged people, and food supply chain
• Critical manufacturing, including food, beverages, chemicals, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, sanitary products, agriculture
• Critical retail, including grocery stores, liquor stores, farms, gas stations, restaurants and bars for takeout/delivery, marijuana dispensaries (only for medical or curbside delivery), hardware stores
• Critical services, including trash and recycling, mail, shipping, laundromats, child care, building cleaning and maintenance, auto supply and repair, warehouses/distribution, funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries, animal shelters and rescues
• News media
• Financial institutions
• Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
• Public safety services like law enforcement, fire prevention and response, EMTs, security, disinfection, cleaning, building code enforcement, snow removal, auto repair
• Vendors that provide critical services or products including logistics, child care, tech support, or contractors with critical government services
• K-12 public and private schools for the purpose of providing meals, housing, facilitating or providing materials for distance learning and providing other essential services to students
• Postsecondary institutions including private and public colleges and universities for the purpose of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions
• Pastoral services for individuals who are in crisis or in-need of end-of-life services
• Houses of worship may remain open, but must practice social distancing or use electronic platforms
• Professional services, such as legal, title companies, or accounting services, real estate appraisals and transactions
View a full list of critical businesses and operations here.
The U.S. Air Force Academy announced that a civilian employee of the 10th Air Base Wing, host wing for the Air Force Academy, has tested positive for COVID-19. The employee is hospitalized at a Colorado Springs hospital, and the individual’s condition is improving. There is no indication the individual had any direct or indirect contact with cadets, the release stated. Academy officials will continue to monitor the situation and other Academy personnel who came in contact with the individual have been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and take appropriate actions if they develop symptoms.
Peterson Air Force Base officials elevated its health protection condition to HPCON-Charlie on March 25 to further safeguard service members, community, and the national defense missions supported here. HPCON Charlie is implemented during a public health emergency when there is substantial risk of a disease being spread, and includes social distancing and potential shelter-in-place orders, as well as restrictions on in-person meetings and official travel. Find more information at peterson.af.mil/Coronavirus.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also announced that it is suspending vehicle emission testing for both gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. The state will continue to provide certain services and registration online at colorado.gov/dmv. The state will provide further information soon on extended vehicle registration deadlines through the duration of Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold warned Coloradans to beware of possible charity scams during the COVID-19 public health crisis. She urged people to confirm the organization requesting donations is registered and current at checkthecharity.com; vet solicitation calls carefully, be watchful about newly formed charitable organizations and be wary if a charity fails to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, finances and how the donation will be used.
The ACLU of Colorado urged all Colorado sheriffs to help stop COVID-19 by “safely and swiftly” reducing the jail population. In a letter to sheriffs in 52 counties, UCHealth infectious disease specialist Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes wrote: “This epidemic has the potential to become the Coming Prison Plague.”