DENVER – Colorado is adding more than 800 new contact tracers to the state’s coronavirus testing capabilities to quickly identify outbreaks as it gradually reopens its economy, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency dedicated to enlisting people in public service, will supply AmeriCorps and Senior Corp members to support Colorado’s pandemic response through tracing, which involves identifying, notifying, testing and, if necessary, quarantining any exposed individuals, the Democratic governor told a news briefing.
“With hundreds of contract tracers working in the state, we will have a much better response to the virus and we’ll be able to address outbreaks more quickly, which will reduce infections, save lives and allow us to be more open with our interactions,” Polis said.
Contact tracing is one tool the administration is using to fight the pandemic, in addition to testing, social distancing guidelines and restrictions on businesses. Currently, Colorado is averaging 7,000 to 8,000 tests a day and has more than 46 testing sites, Polis said.
The state has had more than 26,000 coronavirus cases, according to the health department. At least 1,228 deaths were because of the coronavirus; the number rises to at least 1,473 in which the deceased had the virus, the department says.
Over the last week, there has been a leveling off of cases, and within the last two weeks, Colorado has seen a downward trend in hospitalizations, Polis added, crediting residents’ compliance with, initially, a shelter-in-place statewide order, since replaced by a relaxed “Safer at Home” initiative that allowed gradual reopenings of many businesses as long as precautions are taken.
But a week of protests in Denver over the death of George Floyd could produce an upsurge in coronavirus cases because of the lack of social distancing during the demonstrations, Polis said. He urged protesters to get tested seven days after participating in demonstrations, or earlier if symptoms develop.
Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and was pleading for air.
While emphasizing the importance of staying home when possible, the governor also shared his sympathy with those protesting under the current political climate.
“I respect that fact that many Coloradans who joined the protests concluded it is not possible to stay at home, it is not possible to remain silent in the face of the killing of George Floyd, in the face of ongoing racial discrimination,” Polis said. “And I completely respect the fact that those Coloradans consider that essential and they would consider it unconscionable to remain at home.”
On Monday, Polis updated the state’s “Safer at Home” order to “Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors” – a relaxation of strictures on outdoor recreation and guidelines for doing so safely.
“Colorado’s blessed with millions of acres of accessible land – state, local, federal,” Polis said. “And it is relatively safe to be away from others in the great outdoors in our beautiful June weather.”
The state has announced it is seeking public feedback about draft safe-practices rules for places of worship, personal recreation and outdoor industries. Comments are to be submitted by noon Wednesday. Updated guidance for short-term rentals went into effect May 26.
The majority of coronavirus cases cause mild to moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.
Also Tuesday, Denver said it was expanding access to free coronavirus testing to people potentially exposed to the virus and who are returning to work. People can register for an appointment for testing being conducted on the west side of the Pepsi Center.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.