DENVER – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced mandatory furloughs of state workers because of pandemic-related budget cuts and warned Tuesday about a third wave of coronavirus outbreaks if the state’s upward trend continues.
The number of days are based on an employee’s annual salary with exemptions for those necessary for the COVID-19 response, assisting Coloradans in finding jobs, and protecting public safety and roads, as well as workers earning $50,000 a year or less.
“The public sector, too, needs to tighten its belts to get through this,” Polis said at a news conference.
Workers earning $50,000 to $70,000 will be furloughed for one day, $70,000 to $90,000 for two days, $90,000 to $140,000 for three days; and above $140,000 for four days.
In April, Polis announced nearly $289 million in cuts to the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 to offset declining revenue. The cuts affected numerous agencies and projects, but they didn’t include layoffs or furloughs of state employees.
Polis also said that Colorado had 654 new positive cases of the coronavirus Tuesday. The largest number of cases in the state is among 18-to 25-year-olds, most from the University of Colorado Boulder.
The news comes just after the U.S. reached a grim milestone Tuesday of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Polis criticized the lack of a national coordinated strategy but said that it was time for mourning those lives lost and that there would be time for a “post-mortem” on the federal response.
“America could have done better. That’s not just a hypothetical statement. Many other nations have done better,” Polis said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 3,439 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the week ending Sunday, showing an increase of about 1,100 cases compared with the previous week, the Denver Post reported.
The state has not reported that many cases since the week of July 27.
About 3.4% of COVID-19 tests came back positive, averaged over three days. That figure remained below the 5% threshold where experts begin to worry the state could miss detecting a significant number of cases, health officials said.
Boulder County accounted for about one in every five newly confirmed cases last week. The announcement came after CU-Boulder said Monday that it would move to online classes for at least two weeks because of an increasing number of infections.
More than 65,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide since March, and more than 7,300 have been hospitalized. About 1,900 people died directly from the virus, while 2,000 people have died with it in their system.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some – especially older adults and people with existing health problems – it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Patty 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.