Editor's note: This page will be updated frequently but may not contain the latest information. Please refer to the sources listed throughout and at the end of the article for the latest updates on the pandemic.
As of September 1, 2021, Colorado has had more than 615,878 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 7,430 deaths due to the disease. Although more than 75 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, the highly contagious Delta variant is ripping through the state's unvaccinated population, causing a new surge of cases that is overwhelming some local hospital systems. The state has resisted imposing virus-related restrictions, although many local schools are requiring masks to address the surging number of delta cases among children and teenagers. Public health officials continue to encourage social distancing, hand-washing, and indoor mask-wearing in order to keep COVID-19 case numbers at manageable levels.
See how Colorado's COVID-19 numbers compare to other states at Johns Hopkins University's interactive map.
All Coloradans ages sixteen and older are now eligible for the COVID vaccines. The vaccines were developed using technology that has been evolving for decades and went through several clinical trials before they were approved for public use. Although the vaccines are not 100 percent effective at preventing infection, they have been proven to greatly reduce both the chances and severity of infection as well as the risk of death, all of which ease pressure on health care systems and staff. In addition, higher vaccination rates, coupled with preventative measures like masking and social distancing, reduce the chances that the virus could mutate into variants that could evade the immune response produced by vaccines.
On December 14, 2020, the first shipment of Pfizer Corporation's COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Colorado. The first person to be vaccinated in the state was respiratory therapist Kevin Londrigan at Fort Collins Hospital; he was surrounded by media and Governor Jared Polis as he received the first of two injections. The state released the vaccine in phases, beginning with front-line healthcare workers and high-risk individuals (Phase 1A), then moving on to healthcare workers with less direct exposure, home health and hospice workers, as well as correctional, police, and other emergency staff (1B). Next, in the spring, those over the age of sixty-five and with existing health complications, as well as teachers, grocery store workers, and those who work in food processing became eligible for the vaccines (Phase 2).
As of April 2, 2021, all Coloradans age sixteen and older are eligible for the vaccine. Despite the state's relatively strong rollout of the vaccine, disparities were found along racial lines; although 22 percent of the state population is Latinx, by April that population had received only 8 percent of vaccine doses, while white Coloradans had received 72 percent of all vaccinations (whites make up 67 percent of the population). Black Coloradans, who represent 4 percent of the state population, had only received 2 percent of all vaccinations. These trends mirrored similar disparities in nearly every other US state.
Recommendations and Testing
Colorado has tested nearly 3 million people for the coronavirus since the pandemic began. If you believe you may have symptoms of COVID-19, the Colorado Department of Health & Environment has a set of instructions on its website.
In the first few days of the outbreak, Colorado was only able to test 250 people per day, but testing has since expanded. On March 19, 2020, San Miguel County became the first county in the United States to announce test availability for all of its residents, thanks to funding from United Biomedical, whose owners have a house in Telluride. On March 23, Aytu Bioscience, Inc., of Centennial, Colorado, announced FDA approval of a new rapid test for the virus for distribution to healthcare professionals across the country.
On June 2, 2020, officials announced that anyone with symptoms could get tested at Ball Arena (formerly the Pepsi Center) in downtown Denver. In mid-July officials had to close the facility early due to overwhelming demand on labs, which they feared would cause a delay in getting results out to those tested. By late July, those who got tested still had to wait several days - in many cases, up to eight or more - to get results. Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Colorado began testing a faster, saliva-based test for broader community application.
Origins: From China to Colorado
COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus. Discovered in the 1960s, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that include the common cold as well as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that killed 770 people worldwide in 2002–03. Coronaviruses infect humans as well as animals, such as bats and cattle. On January 7, 2020, Chinese officials first detected COVID-19 while investigating a cluster of pneumonia cases in China’s Wuhan province. The coronavirus responsible for the current outbreak was previously known to infect only bats. It is believed to have been transmitted to humans from a wet market in Wuhan province. The virus quickly raced through Chinese populations, infecting some 550 people and killing 17 by January 22.
On January 19, 2020, providers at a clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, identified the first COVID-19 case in the United States. The thirty-five-year-old man said he had recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China. The man was hospitalized with symptoms including cough, fever, nausea, and vomiting, but made a full recovery after twelve days. Although his was the first documented case, researchers now suspect that the virus was circulating in the United States as early as mid-December 2019.
The new coronavirus apparently came to Colorado via a traveler who visited Italy, one of the hardest-hit nations during the first wave of the pandemic. A man in his thirties arrived at Denver International Airport on February 29, then rented a car and drove to a condo at Keystone Resort in Summit County. The man, who is not a resident of the state, developed a respiratory illness and went to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, where on March 5 he became the first person in Colorado to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
Six days later, as the virus continued to spread worldwide, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic, a designation reserved for global outbreaks of new diseases. The virus has a two- to fourteen-day incubation period, meaning infected persons will not show symptoms until between two days and two weeks after exposure. In Colorado, cases were heavily concentrated in urban counties, especially Denver and its suburbs. As cases continued to spread throughout Colorado’s heavily trafficked ski areas, many of the resorts decided to close their doors, sending economic shockwaves through ski resort communities. Weld and other agricultural counties also saw outbreaks. The pandemic has deeply affected the state’s economy, with hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims submitted to the Colorado Department of Labor and Environment.
Coloradans spent nearly four weeks under a statewide stay-at-home order, until a flattening curve in the rate of infection allowed Governor Jared Polis to announce a gradual reopening of the state on April 21, 2020. The state managed to avoid lockdowns throughout the next year, even as cases spiked in fall 2020.
Symptoms and Vulnerable Populations
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and dry cough, but other cold or flu-like symptoms may occur as well, including nausea, vomiting, and loss of taste or smell. Many patients also report shortness of breath. The most vulnerable populations are older adults (with risk increasing by age) and those with underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or lung disease, as well as immunocompromised individuals, such as those with cancers or other debilitating illnesses that affect their immune systems. Although rare, severe cases in younger people and healthy adults can also result in hospitalization and death.
The most reliable information on the coronavirus pandemic comes from the CDC as well as the Colorado Department of Health & Environment. Reliable media sources include Colorado Public Radio (CPR) and the Colorado Sun, which features a live-updated map of documented cases.