Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. There have been 98 deaths in the state due to coronavirus, not 347. We regret the error.
In El Paso County, 340 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed as of April 1 and 16 people have died, including a sheriff’s deputy who died yesterday after testing positive for the virus.
Sheriff Bill Elder announced April 2 that Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Hopkins, 41, died April 1 after suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr. Robin Johnson, El Paso County Public Health medical director, said in a news conference Thursday that Deputy Hopkins had been experiencing symptoms for seven to 10 days. He was not believed to have underlying conditions.
“While we don’t know how Deputy Hopkins contracted COVID-19, his death is a reminder of the risk carried by those who serve,” said Susan Wheelan, director of El Paso County Public Health.
“Today we join our entire community in mourning the loss of El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy, Jeff Hopkins,” Mayor John Suthers said Thursday via Twitter. “While we know that this global pandemic will claim lives, that doesn’t lessen the hurt or the tragedy of the loss of a local law enforcement officer.
“It’s a time to recognize and be thankful for the sacrifices of all our first responders. Our thoughts and prayers are with Deputy Hopkins’ family and the entire law enforcement community today.”
Hopkins had served with the sheriff’s department since 2001.
Elder said Hopkins was one of eight deputies who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Four to 10 times as many people probably have COVID-19 than have tested positive in Colorado, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said Thursday.
The state reported Thursday that as of Wednesday, April 1, there were 3,728 cases statewide, including patients who have tested positive and people who are exhibiting symptoms and had close contacts with someone who tested positive, and 98 (as of the morning of April 3) have died of the disease.
“We’re focusing our testing right now on patients who are hospitalized and on health care workers and first responders so that we can provide the best care to people that we can,” Bookman said in a news conference. “We all agree that we need much greater access to testing across the community.”
Bookman said the health department is following test results to determine the path of the pandemic and preparing for a surge in cases that could occur between the middle of this month and July 1.
Ventilator, supply chain shortages
“The timings of the surge are the most important part of everything that we’re doing,” Bookman said. “There is a massive supply chain shortage at this point. There is a drastic reduction in the availability of PPE. We know that we’re short thousands of ventilators. We need time for our health care system to grow to prepare for this, [which] is why we are being so aggressive in our social distancing. We need to flatten the curve.”
At this point, the state lab does not have a backlog of tests, Bookman said, but organizations such as LabCorp “are having significant backlogs in all of their testing areas, some of them as long as six to 10 days. So we need to find ways to continue testing in the state and nationally.”
Mike Willis, director of the state’s emergency operations center, said the state is doing everything possible to get tests and make testing available to all first responders and health care personnel, as well as to obtain additional medical equipment and supplies.
“We’re very concerned,” Willis said. “It’s a heavy lift, and a lot of things have to come together very, very rapidly.”
Willis was asked about hospitalizations in Weld County that include several employees of a meat packing plant there and whether the state planned to take any steps to minimize the risk to food and agriculture workers.
“We do have guidance out already for critical infrastructure workers,” Willis responded. “As far as workers being compelled to work, we certainly expect all of our businesses to take appropriate steps to protect their workforce and families of the workforce and the critical infrastructure that supports all of us.”
Local authorities have the power to enforce Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order regarding closure of nonessential businesses, but “this is really about voluntary compliance and doing the right thing,” he said.
In other news:
Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health insurance marketplace, is extending an emergency special enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans from April 3 until Thursday, April 30.
About 5,500 people have signed up for health insurance plans since March 20, when the emergency special enrollment period opened. Their coverage will begin May 1.
“By extending the Special Enrollment period, we are doing our part to help Coloradans get the health coverage they need,” Chief Executive Officer Kevin Patterson said. “If you are experiencing an unexpected loss of health coverage or a change in employment, we are ready to help you explore your options.”
The open enrollment period ended Dec. 15, 2019, but people who have certain qualifying events can still enroll in a health plan for 60 days after qualifying events. Those events include a loss of health coverage in the past 60 days or expectation of losing it in the next 60 days, a chance in household income, being hospitalized for a prolonged illness or a life change such as marriage, divorce or having a baby.
Colorado is one of a few states that has its own health insurance marketplace under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. It is an independent marketplace not affiliated with the state or federal government and does not provide quotes or sell insurance directly to consumers.
For more information, visit coloradoconnectplans.com or call 855-291-4138.
More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, The Washington Post reported April 2. “The past two weeks have erased nearly all the jobs created in the past five years, a sign of how rapid, deep and painful the economic shutdown has been on many American families who are struggling to pay rent and health insurance costs in the midst of a pandemic,” the Post reported. According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 10 million Americans lost their jobs and applied for government aid, and the real number of people is probably even higher because many people have not been able to file yet.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created an online guide to help small businesses, independent contractors and other gig economy workers prepare to file for a coronavirus relief loan under the CARES Act. The guide outlines the steps small businesses should take now as they prepare to access funds to keep workers on their payroll. Information about the CARES Act loans and grants also is available from the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.
Colorado is receiving more than $14.2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to help public safety agencies address the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the recently enacted stimulus legislation, the department is making $850 million available nationwide for this purpose.
The U.S. Treasury announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who don’t normally file tax returns will automatically get a $1,200 stimulus payment. Earlier in the week, the Internal Revenue Service said qualifying for the payments would require filing a tax return.