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March 12, 2020

Gov. Polis Announces State of Emergency

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday, May 10 declared a 30-day state of emergency in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus by speeding testing, granting sick leave to workers and eliminating DMV visits for senior citizens.

That declaration also allows the state to tap into additional resources, Polis said during a news conference, The Gazette reports.

The number of diagnosed coronavirus patients in Colorado grew again Tuesday, with three more presumptive cases added in the morning to the dozen announced through Monday. The state reported two more cases Tuesday evening -- a man in his 50s in Jefferson county and a teenaged girl in Denver.

An El Paso County man in his 40s — so far the county's first and only presumptive positive case — remained isolated at his home  Tuesday, a spokeswoman for El Paso County Public Health said.

The man traveled to California recently, and county health officials have spoken with people he could have exposed to the virus, spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said. She didn't offer more details.

The man has been ordered to stay at home until he tests "negative" for the virus two times over two days, officials said.

Polis announced a drive-up facility for testing at the state Department of Public Health and Environment's Lowry campus in eastern Denver. He said that people who want to be tested still need a note from their doctor and warned people not to just show up.

Additional testing will be conducted by LabCorp, which has relationships with most health care providers. A testing facility for the Western Slope should be up and running by the end of the week, the first-term Democrat said.

At least nine counties in Colorado now have at least one positive case. At least one person presumed positive for the virus has no ties to travel or exposure to other infected people, according to state health officials.

Polis said he has asked Vice President Mike Pence for another 1,500 test kits. The state now has about 900, Polis said.

The governor warned that as more Coloradans are tested, "we should expect a rise in positive cases." However, "the more we test, the better chance for successful containment," he said.

The emergency declaration comes with a directive to the Department of Labor and Employment to grant paid sick leave to workers in the food service, hospitality, child care, health care and education industries if they miss work for exhibiting flu-like symptoms. That paid leave applies only while the worker is being tested and awaiting test results, approximately 24 hours to three days, Polis said. They will also look for additional resources for unemployment insurance and wage replacement for those who test positive.

"It's critical they are able to take sick leave," Polis said.

He also wants businesses to offer paid sick leave "to be part of the solution."

Some state employees who wind up in quarantine or isolation should be able to work from home, Polis said. Those who cannot, such as prison guards, should use paid sick leave if they are unable perform their duties.

In another move to combat the virus, Polis ordered a change to allow Coloradans over the age of 65 to renew driver's licenses online to avoid Department of Motor Vehicles lines. One case in Douglas County came from someone who had visited a DMV, he said. Current law allows online renewal only up to the age of 64, he explained.

Polis said other emergency orders could be announced in the coming days.

"I won't hesitate to use emergency authority to take decisive actions to protect" the vulnerable, nursing homes, health care providers and senior centers, he said.

"Our goal is not only to save lives, but to prevent widespread disruption" as has been seen in China and Italy.

Declaring a state of emergency, however, doesn't mean Colorado isn't open for business, recreation and tourism.

"This shouldn't cause more anxiety or panic, quite the opposite," Polis said. "This provides reassurance that we are aware of risk, and taking every reasonable step we can. You should feel more comfortable eating out knowing chefs and waiters aren’t working sick."

Fort Carson and other Pikes Peak region military bases on Tuesday announced they could quarantine troops returning from areas deemed a high risk, which now includes Italy and China, as the Department of Defense increases its virus prevention measures. Those troops would face a two-week "restriction of movement" to determine if they have the virus.

The bases Tuesday had no reported cases.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, reported Monday that coronavirus has afflicted more than 116,000 people in 104 countries with 4,088 deaths. In the United States, 35 states have at least one case and 27 deaths have been reported out of 761 cases.

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