As officials with the state health department prepare to move Colorado from a stay-at-home order to the safer-at-home phase, they say they are in a balancing act of continuing to lower transmission of the novel coronavirus and regaining economic stability.
In a virtual press conference Thursday, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Jill Hunsaker Ryan said the state is comfortable with how the safer-at-home policy will be laid out. She said the department has been working with the Colorado School of Health to create modeling projections using multiple different scenarios.
“We feel like at this point, we’re able to take a step down (from a stay-at-home order),” she said.
As the state prepares to move into the safer-at-home phase on April 27, it is also continuing to secure more testing materials and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Sarah Tuneberg, director of the Colorado Coronavirus Innovation Response Team, said the congressional delegation has been powerful and supportive in CDPHE’s efforts.
“It’s a lot of volume so having congressional delegation help expedite PPE that Coloradans really need is helpful,” she said.
As soon the state receives PPE, they distribute it to their partners through traditional systems, Tuneberg said. They are not stockpiling the resources.
Colorado needs more PPE than it ever as before because of the infectivity of the virus, but the state is hardly alone in that need.
The whole world needs PPE right now, Tuneberg explained. It’s not like many other emergencies, such as when a tornado hits a southeastern state and other parts of the country can send help. The virus has broken down the usual emergency staging around sharing resources because all states are needing the same items at the same time, she said.
Ryan said the CDPHE has been talking with Colorado’s neighboring states about their plans, orders and models. As of now, those states have been giving similar guidance as Colorado.
“We do believe regional approach — understanding what each other is doing — is the best way to go,” Ryan said.
Vendors of PPE are dealing with countless groups in need and that has created a challenge for everybody, she said. She said in a few situations, the state has been under contract to purchase ventilators, but the contract was displaced by the federal government.
“It’s a multi-level challenge,” Tuneberg said, adding that they know they’re using taxpayer money to secure resources and feel the responsibility of that.
Scott Bookman, incident commander for state COVID-19 response, said he didn’t know how much money the state has spent fighting the coronavirus so far. Denver7 has requested this information when it becomes available.
He said the state has been receiving supplies daily from a number of different sources — swab kits from the federal government and test kits from the private sector, for example. The state is focused on getting as many test kits as they can — and however they can — so they are able to ramp up testing around the state.
He said officials have set the ambitious goal of getting thousands of tests done each day in partnership with state and local public health agencies, who will work alongside community health centers, hospitals and other facilities. This must be a “broad-based strategy” done with partnership at all levels, Bookman said.
Anybody who would like to volunteer in these efforts can visit www.HelpColoradoNow.org.
During Thursday’s press conference, Ryan also shed light on how the state is helping nursing homes and long-term care facilities navigate this new reality.
She said the possibility of asymptomatic transmission has made containment tricky, especially in the beginning. Even after putting heavy restrictions on who could enter the facilities and following the “traditional playbook,” outbreaks continued to pop up. After determining it was because of that asymptomatic transmission, the CDPHE put a team together to focus on this problem and issued a new public order requiring these facilities to organize a plan by May 1 on how to isolate anybody — staff or patient — who tests positive.
Ryan said the state is still determining how to streamline PPE to those kinds of facilities.
The state expects to move into the safer-at-home phase on April 27 and health officials recognize not all counties may agree with this decision.
But the safer-at-home process comes with flexibility so local public health agencies can alter how restrictive it is based on their local needs. For example, if community transmission is still high and the area is struggling with capacity in hospitals, they can tighten the rules, and even have a stay-at-home order at the local level, Ryan said.
“Conversely, as we saw with the Eagle County request, we have a process where if counties can meet requirements, don’t have widespread community transmissions, have only a few positive cases a day and have capacity in hospitals — then they can do a step down,” she said.
On Friday, Eagle County announced it was seeking exemptions from some portions of the state's COVID-19 executive and public health orders in an effort to boost morale and the county's economy. This was approved by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Monday and he will “virtually visit” the county Thursday for the formal approval of the county’s request. Eagle County had to submit plans on how they’d begin the reopening process and what triggers they’d watch for in case they needed to tighten back up.
Ryan said what Eagle County is doing now is not unlike the safer-at-homer plan — they’re just putting it in place earlier and using a model from the San Francisco Bay Area in giving guidance to their businesses, she said. It may look a little different, but the level of social distancing in the county will be similar.
Also during the press conference, Tuneberg noted that the state has an innovation response team, state epidemiologist testing team and local public health agencies all working to create a holistic contact tracing plan. This will include a new capability called COVID Navigators, which will help people who tested positive for COVID-19 in a multitude of ways, including getting food to them while under quarantine.