Colorado COVID-19 cases reached 8,675 as of April 15, the state Department of Health Policy and Environment announced. There have been 1,693 hospitalizations and 374 deaths in Colorado.

El Paso County has had 689 cases and 48 deaths.

Across the state, 41,830 people have been tested.

Peak Vista Community Health Centers today announced a new COVID-19 drive-thru testing site, set to open Friday, April 17.

Based on the availability of testing, routine hours will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Individuals do not have to be Peak Vista patients to access the testing site.

Peak Vista will draw licensed health care providers from several of its health centers to oversee testing.

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Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptomatic individuals who come to the center will be asked to complete a demographic form that collects basic demographic information such as income and family size, to determine if they qualify for any assistance.

They will also be asked to present a form of ID and insurance card, if applicable. Peak Vista will also be screening patients for a sliding fee scale discount.

The COVID-19 test involves a swab of a patient’s nose while they remain in their car. Patients are asked to have no more than two people per car.

Tests are being supplied and processed through Quest Diagnostics, and people who are tested at the drive-thru site will receive a phone call with their results from a Peak Vista provider. They’ll be asked to stay home and avoid public transit and public places like grocery stores until they get their results.

Peak Vista will continue the drive-through services as long as testing supplies and PPE are available.

“Peak Vista is committed to doing what we can to help fight COVID-19 in our communities,” Chief Medical and Dental Officer Dr. Lisa Ramey said. “Thanks to the valiant efforts of our providers and dedicated front line staff, we will be able to test members of our communities and make decisions about treatment and appropriate next steps.”

The site, which will be located in the south parking lot at Peak Vista’s Academy campus, 3205 N. Academy Blvd., will be open to anyone 12 and older with symptoms of COVID-19.

UCHealth, in coordination with El Paso County Public Health, has expanded testing guidelines at its drive-thru tent located at South Parkside Drive/KidsKare Point, one block east of Memorial Park.

COVID-19 testing will now be provided to any individual experiencing fever, cough, or shortness of breath within the last 3-5 days.

Hours for the site are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency withdrew support April 10 for testing site. UCHealth, which established the site March 13, indicated it planned to continue operating the site as long as supplies made it possible.

U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Colorado Governor Jared Polis are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to make critical improvements to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act with the focus on the areas under negotiation in Washington to better support Coloradans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statewide leaders in Colorado are calling for additional funding and critical modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program to support small businesses in Colorado and $500 billion in relief to states.

“Colorado is representative of America,” wrote the senators and the governor. “We have remote rural communities and large urban areas. We depend on the agriculture industry, but we also have some of the most cutting edge technology companies in the world. We are known for our restaurants, hotels, and outdoor recreation. Those industries are supported by countless plumbers, electricians, and contractors. And like America, we have our differences, but above all, Coloradans are pragmatic—we do what works. The ideas laid out in this letter reflect what Coloradans have told us is needed to make these programs work. We should waste no time in adopting them.”

In addition to requesting specific changes to the CARES Act to benefit more Colorado entities, the Colorado statewide leaders are requesting additional funding to support frontline health care providers, the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, states, local governments, and tribes, and increasing overall SNAP benefits by 15 percent to alleviate pressure on hardest-hit families in Colorado during the crisis.

“We believe that we share the common goals of keeping thousands of small businesses across Colorado and the nation with the ability to retain as many workers as they can, our hospitals and health care providers equipped with what they need, and state and local governments and tribes with the ability to respond during this pandemic,” they wrote.

Also Thursday, the COVID-19 Health Policy Group within El Paso County Public Health said that any retail business may fulfill customer orders made online or by phone through curbside pickup or delivery.

“This allows businesses to compete with online and big box retailers who remain open,” Chamber Vice President of Marketing and Communications Dani Barger stated in an email.

Barger said Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs Rachel Beck convened a group of stakeholders to provide guidance on allowable curbside pickup and delivery. Community partners included El Paso County Public Health, the Downtown Partnership and county staff.

According to the COVID-19 Health Policy Group, “any business that does not meet the definition of a critical business [in Public Health Order 20-24] and is required to close down in-person work may continue to carry out Minimum Basic Operations. … Minimum Basic Operations include ‘the minimum necessary activities to … continue filling online product orders and to process customer orders remotely.’”

The public health order does not specify the methods that may be used to fill online product orders, for example, whether such orders must be shipped or whether they can be picked up at the business site.

“Provided that Social Distancing Requirements are met and that the business uses all reasonable methods to protect its employees and its customers to the maximum extent, it is a reasonable interpretation of PHO 20-24 to allow the fulfillment of online or phone orders through shipping, curbside pick-up or delivery,” the guidance stated.

In other news:

Outbreaks in residential and health care facilities in Colorado as of Wednesday grew to 93 — a number that has more than doubled in the past 10 days.

The Department of Public Health and Environment has posted a new data dashboard to track and provide information about these outbreaks.

“We will have a weekly report from the Colorado Department of Public Health with information about COVID outbreaks at long-term care facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities and other facilities,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a press conference Wednesday.

“This is a change that’s really aimed at increasing transparency, better protection for the public, and providing more insight into the extent of site-based coronavirus outbreaks,” Polis said. “A confirmed outbreak means, and we’re using a working definition of, two or more confirmed cases in a facility — and it’s a non-household group that’s a facility —within a 14-day period.”

The dashboard will track probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths of probable and confirmed residents, as well as probable and confirmed cases and deaths among staff.

The data will be updated every Wednesday by about 4 p.m.

“These outbreaks in long-term care facilities have certainly been a tragedy,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said in a follow-up press conference Thursday. “We are working closely with those facilities to manage outbreaks.”

The Paycheck Protection Program authorized by Congress three weeks ago ran out of money and stopped accepting applications for the loans.

The program provided federally guaranteed loans to employers who are maintaining their payroll during the COVID crisis and offered forgiveness of up to eight weeks of payroll, no fees and six months to a year of payment deferrals.

The $350 billion program was a central part of the $2 trillion economic rescue law passed three weeks ago, and small businesses inundated lenders with applications for the program as soon as it went online April 3.

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 1.6 million loans had been made by 4,975 lenders nationwide as of Thursday morning.

The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, which has been assisting businesses in filing applications, said that the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program also is no longer accepting new applications.

“Applications previously submitted for an EIDL Cash Advance and loan will continue to be processed on a first come, first served basis,” a release from the SBDC stated.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked Congress to approve an additional $250 billion for the PPP program, but a divided Congress has not been able to agree on further legislation.

“I’m hopeful in the near future we can continue processing those loans to provide the critical support necessary to the many small businesses still in need of assistance,” said Dan Nordberg, SBA Region VIII administrator based in Denver.

“In the meantime, business owners should remain in contact with their lender and make sure they have the documentation necessary to complete the PPP application in the event Congress appropriates additional funding to continue the program,” Nordberg said.

The CDPHE is identifying further locations to do mass testing of Coloradans.

Scott Bookman, incident commander for the state’s COVID-19 response, said during a press conference Thursday that the ability to conduct mass testing across the state is “a key pillar to our ability to move forward into our new normal.”

“The governor is very clear that the state will not reopen until he has the capacity to make everyone safe,” Bookman said. “We’re doing everything we can working with our federal partners and the private sector, within the state within the country and internationally to gain all of the equipment and consumables that we will need.”

Bookman said the state’s goal is to have at least one testing site in each Colorado county and multiple sites in larger counties.

“We also will need to have all of the equipment, swabs and viral transport media and personal protective equipment to safely open these sites for everyone,” Bookman said.

Asked about the possibility of a second wave of cases when current restrictions are relaxed, Dr. Herlihy said. “It’s too soon for us to know that. It really depends, I think, on policy decisions that are made over the next couple of weeks and the ability for disease control strategies to control transmission with less social distancing in place.”

El Paso County Public Health announced the launch of a new data dashboard and data office that expand access to timely, relevant and credible data for the public and community partners.

Maps, graphics, and illustrations found on the dashboard are intended to make it easier to visualize complex data and relationships, leading to better understanding and improved decision-making.

“This expanded capability has been part of my focus and vision as director to increase public health data and analytics access to the community, maximizing the use of resources,” El Paso County Public Health Director Susan Wheelan said. “Science, data, technology and innovation should be the drivers of everything we do and enable us to be nimble in responding to emerging issues and threats.”

This dashboard is driven by the newly formed Public Health Data and Analytics Office. Public Health’s team of data experts has been working to create a platform to share data in an easily accessible way to increase transparency and to serve as a critical component of making data-driven and health policy-based decisions.

This information will enable Public Health and its community partners, as well as other community entities, to prioritize their efforts, align resources efficiently and work collaboratively.

Sound the Horn campaign: If you heard horn blasts at 1 p.m. Thursday, they were from Mountain Metropolitan Transit drivers participating in a national Sound the Horn campaign to honor public transportation workers.

As a tribute to bus drivers and other transit staff on the front lines of the public health crisis, buses running in service sounded two one-second horn blasts.

Transportation workers across the country are providing critical service for health care workers, first responders, child care workers, grocery store employees and other heroes who are performing critically essential work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sprucing up the sidewalks: Recently, medical students from University of Colorado School of Medicine donned masks and took three hours out of their busy schedules to chalk the sidewalks in front of Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs and spread smiles among our team members and patients – all while practicing social distancing, of course.

Encouraging words, superhero emblems and colorful depictions of rainbows decorated the sidewalks leading to the front of the hospital and the employee entrance. Not only were patients and team members greeted by the art, but it was viewable from the windows inside the hospital and team members and patients enjoyed watching the progress.

These students are finishing school during a worldwide pandemic and also volunteer across the county as phone triage for clinics and local organizations like The Place, the Independence Center and Springs Rescue Mission.

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