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Coronavirus in Colorado: Your questions answered and where you can go for help

Posted: 1:46 PM, Mar 14, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-31 21:25:44-04
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DENVER — We know you have questions about the novel coronavirus. A lot of them. We still have questions ourselves, but we're working to find the answers about how to stay safe from COVID-19 and where to go for more resources.

Have a question? Call our coronavirus hotline at 303-832-0676 and we'll do our best to track down an answer.

MORE | CDC coronavirus resources

MORE | Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment coronavirus page

We'll continue updating this story as we learn more.

Should I get tested for COVID-19?

First, be aware of the most common coronavirus symptoms: Fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those also are common symptoms for the flu. If you're not in a high-risk group, such as the over-60 population or someone with an underlying respiratory issue, officials advise that you stay at home until your condition improves. If you develop breathing problems, contact your doctor or a medical provider to see if you need to be tested.

Do NOT go to an emergency room to get a coronavirus test unless you are having a medical emergency, officials say. In order to be tested at a state facility, such as the drive-up locations this week, you'll need a note from your doctor first. So the bottom line: If you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, reach out to your doctor and they'll advise you on whether you need to be tested.

If you’re unable to drive to either your doctor’s office, a drive-up testing facility or another location that is performing tests for COVID-19, there are hospital transportation services available for emergency and non-emergency medical purposes. Visit this page on the state's website for more information. You can also call (303) 398-2155 to request such services.

If I'm not feeling well, how long should I be isolated?

It's still cold and flu season and allergy season is beginning, too. If you don't feel well, it's probably best to stay home until you feel better. As we mentioned above, if you begin to develop breathing problems, contact your medical provider. If it's an emergency, go to the emergency room. But officials and health providers have advised people to simply stay home if you have mild symptoms. Keep in mind symptoms may not show up until two to 14 days after exposure.

What do I need if I want to get tested for COVID-19 at a drive-up testing facility?

Before even thinking of getting tested for the novel coronavirus, make sure to call your primary health care provider. Based on a series of questions, they will be able to determine if you need to get tested for COVID-19. Make sure to follow the provider’s advice BEFORE going into any health facility.

DO NOT go to an emergency room to get tested for COVID-19 unless you have a medical emergency. For COVID-19, that means severe respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath or breathing difficulties, according to the CDPHE.

Now, if you’re thinking of going to a drive-up testing facility, you have to have a doctor’s note. DO NOT SHOW UP TO A DRIVE-UP TESTING FACILITY WITHOUT A DOCTOR’S NOTE.

It’s worth noting that, besides a doctor’s note, the requirements, locations and times for drive-up testing are fluid. Check here for the latest information on drive-up testing.

How long will it take to get the results from a COVID-19 test?

Dr. Nick Tsipis with Swedish Medical Center said it will take several days, but typically three to four. If you don't hear within this time frame, call the facility and explain the situation to them. Continue to keep yourself in isolation until you get a negative confirmation.

What is the difference between COVID-19, allergies and the flu? And why is there such a panic over COVID-19 when the flu has killed more people?

Allergy symptoms include sneezing coughing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. The flu is similar — it's symptoms are fever, a dry cough, runny nose, headache, muscle pain and a sort throat.

COVID-19 symptoms, which may appear two to 14 days after exposure, include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Please note that it is highly unlikely to have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Doctors are trying to rule out other illnesses before testing for COVID-19 because of the limited tests available.

This virus outbreak differs from the swine flu or bird flu because it's never been seen before, there's no vaccine for it and it seems to spread easily, said Stephen Cobb, a doctor with Centura Health.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 has a higher fatality rate than the seasonal flu because it is a new virus and we have no immunity to it. The virus has also spread across the globe in a matter of weeks. The flu season starts in September or October and ends around March or April. This is not a panic, but rather a response to the global spread of a deadly new disease.

What does "community spread" mean?

We've seen conformed cases of "community spread" both in the Denver area and the Colorado high country, officials said this week. What does that mean? It means a person has become infected with coronavirus through an unknown source. At first, many of the cases in Colorado could be traced to recent travel or contact with another infected person. Community spread popped up in cases where people became infected but we didn't know how.

What if my grocery store runs out of essentials?

Panic buying has caused anxiety of its own for many shoppers who simply need weekly groceries and other essentials. The good news: Stores say they are working hard to keep shelves stocks and some are even placing restrictions on key items such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and antibacterial wipes. Here's the latest update on stores' plans.

Please note that there is nothing hindering grocery stores' supply chains, so we will not run out of food.

Click here for more ways to keep your pantry full and your kids fed, including grab-and-go meals from various school districts.

Denver councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval also tweeted out an important resource Saturday — a list of Denver food pantries and their hours of operation.

What if I get the novel coronavirus? What next?

Take the advice of your doctor first, but a key point officials have made this week has been this: Stay home and separate yourself from other people. Many cases of coronavirus will result in only mild symptoms. Use a separate bathroom, if possible, and stay in another room. And don't leave your home unless you are going for medical care.

How is coronavirus treated at a hospital?

Here's what Dr. Neal O'Connor, an emergency medicine physician with HealthONE system in the Denver, told us:

"Understand, there's no specific treatment for this virus. It's like any other virus. The only virus we have effective treatment for is influenza. So it's what is called supportive care. If somebody needs oxygen or other respiratory care, we do that. If they need hydrated, we hydrate them. If they are truly sick, we may need to admit them to the hospital. But by and large, most people will have mild symptoms. Many may be asymptomatic."

"So what it's like in the ER, right now everybody is being cautious, but we're not panicking. We're taking precautions that we would normally do in any sort of viral outbreak. If you're having respiratory symptoms, you would be masked and screened for fever. If you screen positive for travel, shortness of breath, things like that put you at a higher risk for having this illness -- you will be put in either a negative airflow room or private room to prevent the spread in the [emergency department]. The providers are taking precaution with personal protection using gloves and masks and eyewear depending on the severity of the patient."

How do I know if I was exposed to someone with coronavirus?

Officials say you generally need to be in close contact with a sick person to be infected by the coronavirus, though we've seen cases of community spread in Colorado already. Close contact includes living with someone, caring for someone with coronavirus, being within six feet of a sick person for at least 10 minutes, or being in direct contact with fluids from a person with coronavirus. This includes being coughed on, kissing, or sharing utensils.

If you think you’ve already been infected but aren’t sure, there really isn’t a way for you to find out.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that if you showed symptoms before but aren’t showing them anymore and you are now healthy, there may not be enough of the virus left in your body to test positive. The good news? If you did have the novel coronavirus before, your body has probably built up some immunity to it by now.

What should I do if I've been in contact with someone with coronavirus?

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment recommends that you not go to work or school and avoid public places for 14 days after coming in contact with the sick person, even if you aren't showing symptoms.

If you show symptoms within that 14-day window, continuet to stay at home and away from other people. If you are at a high risk of getting extremely sick from coronavirus, contact your doctor and tell them you have been exposed. Again, if you are having a medical emergency, call 911 and tell dispatch that you have been exposed to coronavirus.

What if I'm uninsured?

While the COVID-19 test done at the state lab will be free of charge and will require no proof of insurance, it does require a doctor’s note that confirms a person meets the criteria for testing and a person will need a photo ID to match the doctor’s note.

There is some relief for the uninsured: The state's Division of Insurance has announced it will establish a special enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans that will allow them to enroll in individual health insurance plans (meaning plans NOT provided by an employer) from March 20 through April 3, 2020. Coverage will be effective starting April 1, regardless of when someone enrolls during that window. Only people who are currently uninsured are eligible to enroll, as this is not a period for people with coverage to change plans, the governo's office said in a statement. Uninsured spouses and children will also be allowed to enroll at this time, even if one spouse or a child’s parent may already be insured.

For people without insurance who fear having to pay for a doctor’s visit in order to obtain a note, they can go to the state lab and will be directed to a nurse or epidemiologist on-site at the state lab testing center in order to be assessed. If the person does not meet the criteria, they will not be tested.

The CDPHE said that uninsured people can also talk to health care providers, who may refer them to a federal resource center. Uninsured people may also call their local public health agency to determine the best route for testing.

Undocumented persons can be tested the same as anyone else using any photo ID at the state facility – the ID does not need to be issued by the government.

What are the chances I get COVID-19?

It depends on who and where you are, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For most people, the risk is low. But people living in areas where the disease is rapidly spreading will have a greater risk. Cooperating with guidelines about avoiding groups of people and washing your hands will help slow the spread.

COVID-19 is fairly mild for healthy, young adults and children. But it can be serious — according to WHO, one in every five people who catch it will need hospital care. The virus tends to be more severe for older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes. Anybody with these conditions should be extra committed to social distancing and handwashing.

Can COVID-19 be passed through paperwork and snail mail?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said if the disease were to transfer onto something like mail, it would likely be a low concentration.

The CDC also said there is very low risk of coronavirus spreading from products and packages, even if they were shipped from China, because of the "poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces."

As packages go through multiple days -- or weeks -- of delivery, they face various temperatures that coronaviruses aren't likely to survive.

Can COVID-19 spread through water? Or food?

The virus has not been detected in any drinking water, according to the CDC. As of now, there’s no evidence that it can spread to people who use pools or hot tubs.

There’s a low risk of the virus spreading from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or longer at room temperature, or in refrigerators or freezers. The virus doesn't survive very long on most surfaces. Always wash your hands before eating and wash your food as needed.

Should I buy personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid COVID-19?

The CDC is asking the public to not buy PPE like face masks and N95 respirators to protect themselves. Only patients who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should do so until they are in an isolated setting either at a hospital or at home. Health workers and others who are caring for infected people need these items.

The WHO says masks make very little difference if you are just walking around town or going about your daily life.

What is COVID-19’s effect on pregnant women?

The CDC said it does not yet know if pregnant women have a higher chance of getting sick from COVID-19. Overall, women’s bodies undergo many changes while pregnant and this can sometimes increase their risk of infections, like influenza, which are in the same family as COVID-19. The CDC recommends pregnant women to follow the same guidelines and precautions as the rest of the public.

Researchers do not yet know if COVID-19 has an effect on a baby before or after birth, or if a mother can pass it along to a fetus. As of now, no babies born to mothers who tested positive for the coronavirus have also tested positive. The CDC said the virus was not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk, though the number of cases tested was small.

Read more from the CDC here.

Can it affect my pets?

Some other types of coronaviruses can affect pets, but not COVID-19.

Is it safe to visit medical offices for non-emergency reasons, like a dental cleaning or elective surgery?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommended on March 16 for all dentists in the country to postpone elective procedures. ADA President Chad P. Gehani said they are concerned for the health and well-being of patients and health teams.

“In order for dentistry to do its part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the ADA recommends dentists nationwide postpone elective procedures for the next three weeks,” he said.

The Colorado Dental Hygienists’ Association said it supports this decision.

The American College of Surgeries has recommended that health officials reschedule elective surgeries.

Will the spread stop once the weather warms up?

Researchers with the CDC said they don’t know how rising temperatures will affect COVID-19.

Is it safe, or a good idea, to exercise?

Yes! The CDC said you should take breaks from watching or reading the news, or scrolling through social media. Exercising regularly is still important to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, though it may be best to avoid the gym if it’s crowded. Parks and trails are safe as long as they’re not overly crowded.

There are countless ideas for in-house workouts. Here are some fun options:
-Free 15-minute bodyweight workout each day this week on the Runner’s World Instagram page
-Yoga. YouTube is a great resource to find the best kind of yoga that works for you. In addition, CorePower Yoga On Demand is offering free streaming, with new classes available every week.
-Peloton has offered a free 90-day subscription trial for its at-home workout app. This includes a library of more than 20 classes for yoga, meditation, bootcamp, strength, cycling, running and more
-Join one of Planet Fitness’s free, at-home 20-minute workout classes via live stream. Open to everybody, including non-members. They stream the workouts on their Facebook here.
-305 Fitness is a dance/cardio-style workout with free classes on YouTube
-Barry’s, a well-known bootcamp-style workout class, is offering 20-minute total body workouts live, and for free, on Instagram. No weights needed.
-Top workout apps (some are subscription-based): Sweat, Glo, Nike Training Club, Daily Burn and more

Can you test positive for COVID-19, recover, and then get it again?

Stephen Cobb, a doctor with Centura Health, said there’s a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19. So the answer to this question remains unknown as of now. But it’s possible with other coronaviruses, like the common cold. Researchers aren’t sure about the length of immunity after you’ve been infected. It is “probably possible that you can get infected again,” he said.

Does Colorado plan to drop taxes for early withdrawals on 401Ks?

It is a rapidly evolving situation. The Colorado Department of Revenue is monitoring what the IRS does and we are asking those questions to the Governor’s Office. We will inform you in the event of any tax deadline or penalty changes.

Generally speaking, if you withdraw funds from a tax-deferred retirement account and have not reached age 59 1/2, your withdrawal will be subject to a 10% penalty on the amount withdrawn.

Why are some dispensaries still open?

Dispensaries already go through extensive sanitation and testing requirements from the health department. Many have added extra precautions because of the novel coronavirus. They are using Clorox wipes after every customer enters, limiting the number of people inside and not allowing customers to touch any products. Dispensaries essentially operate like a Walgreens or CVS. And many are providing medical marijuana, which raises other problems with shutting them down.

Despite that, Denver7 spoke to a GM at Native Roots near the airport who said he thinks they should shut down. He is worried they are coming into contact with too many people especially since his dispensary is near the airport.

In addition, dispensaries are seeing an increase in business. People are stocking up because they are concerned they will close.

On March 19, the California governor issued a shelter-in-place for the state. What would this mean if it happens in Colorado?

The term "shelter in place" has some people worried. But in many cities, it is not a strict rule that requires you to remain inside 24/7. In most cases, you can leave your home to go to the doctor, the pharmacy, grocery store, to take care of a family member, take the dog out, go for a jog or a hike and more.

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said it is part of the tool box and they only pull it out when they have enough justification to do so.

How far can the governor's power extend during this time?

Gov. Polis can do the following: Order the quarantine or people or property. Use emergency money to pay for a response. Suspend state laws that would delay an emergency response. Take control of private property to use for disaster response, but property owners would be compensated. Order evacuations. Suspend or limit the sale of alcohol, firearms and explosives. Regulate the disposal of corpses and infectious waste. Call a special session for legislators. Activate the National Guard to help with testing.