By Pam Zubeck

About 20 El Paso County citizens blasted county commissioners and Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday, May 12, for allowing public health experts to steer their response to the coronavirus.

Nearly all appeared at the speakers’ podium without masks, and none were observed using hand sanitizer available on the platform or sanitizing the sole microphone used by all.

A sampling of the comments:

“County commissioners have taken advice from public health instead of protecting the rights of people.”

“It is not OK the governor is holding Colorado economic hostage. We should not have to be prisoners in our own homes….”

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“Opening a business is not a process. It takes less than a minute. My First Amendment right is God given….”

“We gotta get our people back to work [or] you’re gonna have a riot in this country.”

“People in El Paso County are losing their jobs, their life savings in the name of public health. People are going bankrupt in the name of public health. People are facing financial ruin … suicide, all in the name of public health. This isn’t worth it folks. You’re Republican. You should stand up for liberty instead of allowing the governor to turn our state into California.”

“Stop pandering to the local health department.”

“Why not at some point tell county health to stand down? That’s how we regain confidence in our county officials who say they think businesses have a right to open and you respect our liberties.”

Some found sympathy from commissioners.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, who’s heading a committee of business people and public officials planning how to reopen commerce, said he agreed that people shouldn’t feel compelled to cooperate with health authorities who are trying to contact trace the spread of the virus, for which there is no treatment, cure or vaccine.

“If a public agency does ask you to do a contact tracing, you can refuse, and I believe you’re within your rights to refuse,” he said. But he added he would encourage people to cooperate. VanderWerf also said he thought Polis’ Stay at Home order “was a mistake.”

“I’m really bothered when a public agency decides what’s considered to be essential and what’s considered not to be essential,” VanderWerf said. “To a business owner, it’s essential because it puts food on the table.”

VanderWerf also said he does not support mandatory testing or mandatory contact tracing, which some speakers believe is on the verge of becoming the law of the land. They based that mistaken belief on the May 1 introduction of House Resolution 6666 by a collection of representatives, including Diane DeGette (D-Colorado). The bill, which would carry a price tag of $100 billion, is designed:

“To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, and related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.”

The bill would set up a grant fund for which agencies could apply for funding for these activities. But those who complained to commissioners mistook the measure for mandatory testing under threat of removing government support or taking children from their homes.

One woman said wearing a mask does not protect other people from a diseased person, claiming immunologists had said so.

Phoebe Lostroh, a Colorado College professor who holds a doctoral degree from Harvard and is working with public health officials on types of testing, disputed that.

“Wearing homemade face coverings over the mouth and nose significantly protects others,” she said via email. “If you believe Unacast data about social mixing, which uses cell phone data, we are now at pre-epidemic levels of encounters. This is googleable. The reproduction number of a virus depends a lot on how much social distancing there is. So, mixing while wearing masks, if we must mix, is really, really important.”

Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, when asked about the face mask allegation and contact tracing, said via email:

“Yes, there is growing scientific evidence (experimental and observational) that masks do indeed reduce the number of viral particles released into the air and thus the infectivity. However, using masks is not a substitute for all the other measures in place including social distancing and can be a problem if not used properly or are fidgeted with without hand washing.

“While there is no law mandating an infected individual cooperate with our contact tracing investigation and they are free to participate or not, there certainly is a moral obligation to do so. A COVID-19 infected person can provide information that’s essentially anonymous and has proven again and again to help save lives, particularly of their family, friends, neighbors, and community. It’s the most valuable tool we have to allow us to continue to open our community and economy while keeping us safe.

“Fortunately the overwhelming majority of our community cares about helping others and doing their part to move us forward so we have not a significant amount of individuals not wanting to cooperate.”

Meanwhile, Polis headed for Washington, D.C., to meet with President Trump in an effort to secure more funding for the state’s response to COVID-19.

As of May 11, the state had logged 20,157 positive cases, 3,695 hospitalizations and 1,009 deaths. (El Paso County reports 1,151 cases, 221 hospitalizations and 80 deaths.)

Polis joined governors and legislative leaders from five western states — Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California — to request Congress allocate $1 trillion in “direct and flexible relief to states and local governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to preserve core government services like public health, public safety and public education, and help people get back to work,” according to a release.

Also on May 12, House Democrats proposed what The Washington Post called a “sprawling coronavirus rescue bill” that would funnel more than $3 trillion to state and local governments, health systems, a second round of relief checks and other things, including funding for the U.S. Postal Service. Republicans were expected to block the bill, the Post reported.

In other news:
UCHealth Memorial issued a release saying convalescent plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19 is being used to treat hospitalized patients in Colorado Springs.
From the release:

“UCHealth Memorial is now part of an FDA-regulated “expanded access treatment protocol,” which allows for the use of investigational treatments and provides broader access to convalescent plasma for sick patients.

“As of May 12, a dozen patients at Memorial had received the plasma. The first doses went to patients on April 22, with the most recent infusion being done on Saturday, May 9.

“Dr. Carl Bernas, an infectious disease specialist in Colorado Springs, is the principal investigator for the treatment protocol at UCHealth Memorial. Bernas said there are currently no study results that definitively show the plasma is a proven treatment, but “we are getting some anecdotal evidence that it’s been associated with clinical improvements in some of the patients that we’ve already transfused it to.” …

“Bernas said it appears people who receive the donated plasma early on in their illness tend to recover faster. The plasma contains antibodies that work to diminish the viral load in a sick patient; in essence, it’s someone else’s immune response working to benefit someone who is ill….

Learn more about the donation process here.

Peak Vista received $1.5 million as part of $11.7 million given to Colorado by the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities.

Colorado Springs’ sales and use tax revenues collected in March and paid to the city in April plunged by 14 percent, or about $2.3 million. Mayor John Suthers has said he expects April collections to be even lower, because the stay-home order spanned only half of March but all of April, closing many retail establishments, including restaurants and bars.

Gov. Polis announced on May 11 that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment determined that C&C Coffee and Kitchen in Castle Rock, which opened to throngs of people on Mother’s Day, most not wearing masks, “is causing an imminent health hazard.” CDPHE used its authority under the Colorado Food Protection Act to suspend the eatery’s business license indefinitely until it can be established that there is no longer a threat to public health.

Polis also said starting May 12, people can start booking campsites in state parks, but social distancing and sanitation guidelines must be observed. He also set out this timeline for making decisions on opening the state, which is now under a safer-at-home order:

May 25 — whether ski resorts can be open for Spring skiing. Resorts will only open if the host county wants them open.
May 25 — if restaurants can begin reopening and at what level.
May 25 — if summer residential and day camps can open in June, and if so, under what conditions.
After June 1 — whether the Safer at Home order can be further modified to phase in summer activities and public spaces like libraries. The Governor will make these decisions on a rolling basis, based on the latest data and evidence.

Pikes Peak Library District will begin curbside service May 13. Libraries will remain closed but the new service allows patrons to return materials and pick up items without having direct contact with staff or other patrons.