Gov. Jared Polis gave a COVID-19 update Friday on the heels of several executive orders issued Thursday.
The governor issued directives significantly restricting government spending for the current fiscal year, placed a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent and provided additional funds to nursing homes.
On Friday, Polis said the state’s transition to a safer-at-home period is “not a return to normalcy, which means that Coloradans should continue to be responsible, stay at home when possible and wear masks when in public.”
“This virus is having an impact on every part of our lives,” Polis said. “We talk a lot about how this is affecting public health and our economy, but it’s equally important to recognize the impact this is having on Coloradans’ mental and behavioral health.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, Polis’ office said 2-1-1, Colorado’s free information hotline, has seen a sharp increase in calls during the pandemic.
In addition to providing emergency and transportation assistance, housing support, and other guidance, 2-1-1 will be answering questions regarding worker protections and health care discrimination as more Coloradans begin returning to work.
State hotlines, the statement said, are also seeing a much higher call volume since the the crisis began. Colorado Crisis Services provides free, confidential, professional and immediate support for mental health, substance use or emotional concerns. Individuals can call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional.
The statement also said that a new special assignment committee within the Behavioral Health Task Force has been established to focus on the effects of COVID-19 in the state.
The committee will:
• Create an interim report that highlights the short- and long-term impacts on the behavioral health system, including access and affordability of behavioral health services, especially for vulnerable and underserved populations.
• Evaluate the behavioral health crisis response in Colorado and provide recommendations for the Behavioral Health Task Force’s blueprint on improvements of behavioral health services for a response during any potential future crisis.
The task force will be “charged with providing recommendations on how to overhaul the state’s behavioral health system to ensure every Coloradan has access to mental health
resources” throughout the state. The recommendations were supposed to be released in June, but the timeline of the task force’s work is being extended until later in the summer.
Polis also announced Friday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has activated the Crisis Care Program for Colorado. The CCP provides reimbursements to local organizations that support individuals and communities as they recover from the psychological effects of disasters.
Services, according to Polis’ office, will be provided at no cost and are available to any survivor.
• crisis counseling
• coping strategies
• emotional support
• links with individuals or agencies that can help those impacted
• group or one-on-one settings
Additionally, the COVID Relief Fund is now distributing its second round of grants. The fund received 780 applications requesting more than $17 million; $3.6 million will be disbursed in the second round to 165 organizations that are serving all Colorado counties. Funding, according to Polis’ office, goes to community-based organizations serving:
• displaced workers
• children in low-income households
• frontline workers in health care and other critical industries
• workers without access to paid sick leave or health insurance
• older Coloradans on fixed or lower incomes
• people experiencing homelessness
• people with disabilities
• tribal governments
• survivors of domestic violence or child abuse
• immigrant and refugee communities
• black, Latino and Asian Coloradans who are disproportionately affected by this crisis
Through the first two rounds, $8.4 million in funding has been distributed to 371 organizations across the state.
On Thursday, Polis issued nine executive orders. An order to restrict state government spending slashes $228.7 million for the current fiscal year ending June 30, in order to address significant revenue shortfalls as a result of the pandemic.
These spending cuts do “not rely on broad across-the-board cuts but rather specific line item reductions that can be made with the least possible impact to State programs and services,” according to a Thursday evening statement by Polis’ office.
The order does not mandate furloughs or layoffs for state employees this fiscal year.
Examples of reductions include:
• conference and travel reductions due to travel restrictions
• administrative and salary reductions due to filling only critical positions
• contract savings due to projects delayed, reprioritized or completed below cost
• decreased program utilization due to social distancing restrictions, e.g., health care visits
• annual program reversions due to changes in demand and technical re-estimates
The order addressing evictions extends and strengthens previous orders in limiting residential and commercial evictions for 30 days “to provide support and relief to Coloradans that have experienced economic hardship due to COVID-19.”
More specifically, directives of the extended order include:
• no evictions or foreclosures should occur in the month of May for residential or commercial tenants, unless there is a public-safety risk.
• landlords and lenders are prohibited from charging any late fees or penalties because of an inability to pay rent or mortgage payments.
• landlords must notify tenants of the new federal protections against evictions and foreclosures for each property.
• the Department of Local Affairs, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and
Department of Regulatory Agencies should work with property owners and landlords to create model repayment agreements to allow tenants the time they need to repay rent.
This order also extends current limitations on public utility disconnections and expedited processing of unemployment insurance claims.
Other orders signed by Polis Thursday included:
• extending the closures of downhill ski areas;
• suspending the in-person requirements for notarization for an additional 30 days;
• extending the temporary suspension of statutes preventing county clerk and recorder offices from issuing marriage licenses when county clerk and recorder offices are closed to the public; and
• extending the date unaffiliated candidates for political offices may begin collecting signatures.
Polis also signed one executive order on Friday to temporarily suspend certain statutes concerning taxpayer filing requirements for certain taxable property.
For the full list of Polis’ orders on Thursday and Friday, including the full text of each, visit: colorado.gov/governor/2020-executive-orders.
As of Thursday, Colorado had recorded 15,768 cases of COVID-19, resulting in 2,747 hospitalizations and 820 deaths. El Paso County has accounted for 964 of those cases, as well as 71 of the state’s deaths.
In other developments:
El Paso County Parks and Facilities will begin to reopen next week. The following is a timeline of the agency’s plans for reopening:
Beginning May 4
• parks headquarters will open Monday–Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
• park restrooms will open.
• County Fairgrounds Office will be open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Beginning May 5
• Fountain Creek and Bear Creek Nature Centers will be open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Access will be limited to nine citizens at one time. No organized programs or activities until further notice.
Beginning May 9
• Rainbow Falls Historic Site will be open on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Playgrounds and pavilions will remain closed until further notice, and park facility reservations above nine individuals are currently not being accepted through May 27.
The remainder of El Paso County parks, trails, and open spaces remain open.
Park users are highly encouraged to practice social distancing and wear coverings while enjoying the county park system.
The DNR release states there’s “still plenty of ways to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of Colorado’s outdoors. Stay close to home, and choose times and places where you can maintain six feet of physical distance between yourself and others.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is releasing data from approximately 1,000 Coloradans who took a short survey designed to track symptoms of COVID-19. When people identify they have symptoms of COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, cough or fever, the symptom-tracker will now offer users text messages that will help them manage their symptoms. Texts are only sent to users who consent to receive text messages, according to a release issued by the Pikes Peak Joint Information Center on Friday.
After filling out the symptom tracker and consenting to receive text messages, users will receive messages daily for seven days asking about their symptoms. From there, they may be connected with information on how to use telehealth to receive medical advice, or how to access resources that can help manage mental health needs.
Aggregate data is available on the symptom tracker dashboard page, which can be found at covid19.colorado.gov.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recently sent cease-and-desist letters to three businesses that marketed tests for COVID-19 infection or immunity and “overstated the reliability and accuracy of the tests,” according to a statement by Weiser’s office.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states, “companies may distribute tests that are not FDA approved to identify antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The FDA, however, has clearly stated that all unapproved antibody tests should be accompanied by appropriate disclosures, including that the tests should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose or exclude COVID-19 infection, and that positive results may be due to past or present infection with a different coronavirus strain.
“Additionally, some antibody tests are unreliable and it is still unclear whether and to what extent COVID-19 antibodies provide immunity for those who have recovered from COVID-19.”
The companies served include:
• Zvia Weight Loss and MedSpa, a Lakewood-based weight loss clinic, for offering an at-home test for COVID-19 and falsely claiming that the test is FDA-approved.
• Functional Medicine Center of Fort Collins and Red Tail Wellness Centers in Boulder for misleadingly advertising blood tests that they claimed would reveal whether a person has recovered from COVID-19 and has antibodies that provide immunity to the virus. In an online ad, Functional Medicine Center falsely claimed that the antibody test is FDA-approved.
Centura Health is sharing tips for vulnerable populations, which include older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions like lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.
Centura’s guidance includes:
• Stay home if you are sick.
• Avoid shopping if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
• Order online or use curbside pick-ups.
• Protect yourself when you do go out. There may be times when you need to go to a store or facility. Remember these following guidelines:
• Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering.
• If you must visit others, go at times when you know there will likely be fewer people.
• Look for stores offering special hours for those with severe illness or higher risk factors.
• Bring disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Keep them in your purse or vehicle for use whenever you leave the house.
• Wipe down carts and baskets in stores.
• Wipe buttons and handles before touching them or use hand sanitizer after.
• Hand sanitize after leaving stores.
• Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon arriving at your destination.
• When collecting mail, getting takeout or picking up a delivery, wash hands after transfer. Again, use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Bank online whenever possible. If you have to go to the bank, use the drive-thru.
• Practice prevention at the gas pump. Bring wipes for the handle and buttons before touching them. After fueling, consider hand sanitizer or going to a location to wash your hands.
The Pikes Peak Library District announced its 16 facilities will reopen in phases while prioritizing the health and safety of its patrons and staff.
The library district will soon begin offering curbside service for library cardholders to return materials and pick up items on hold.
There’s not an official launch date for the service yet, as the PPLD team is “working out all of the details, including how to minimize contact by people, quarantine returned items, and safely circulate thousands of books, movies, and other items in our collection between PPLD locations,” the organization said Friday.