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 outbreak.
On March 5, 2020, state officials announced the first case of COVID-19, the respiratory illness produced by the novel coronavirus, in Colorado. Six days later, as the virus continued to spread worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic, a designation reserved for global outbreaks of new diseases.
As of April 3, 2020, Colorado has more than 3,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 100 deaths. State officials expect this number to increase as the virus spreads through the community and as those now carrying the virus become symptomatic. Social distancing is advised to prevent further community spread. Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency on March 10 and announced that all bars, restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, gyms, and casinos in the state must close for thirty days, effective on March 17. Take-out and delivery services remain available. On March 23, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a "stay-at-home" order for the city's 600,000+ residents. Polis followed with a stay-at-home order for the entire state on March 25.
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 are heavily concentrated in urban counties, especially Denver, and mountain counties with ski resorts. The outbreak has already affected the state’s economy, with some 25,000 unemployment claims submitted to the Colorado Department of Labor and Environment.
Recommendations and Testing
To prevent the community spread of the virus, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urges everyone, even healthy people to practice proper and frequent handwashing, and to stay home (self-quarantine) as much as possible. Individuals who are infected but asymptomatic can transmit the virus to more vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. 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 to accommodate more than 8,000 tests. 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.
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 live-animal 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.
The new coronavirus came to Colorado via a traveler who visited Italy, one of the hardest-hit nations during 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 he became the first person in Colorado to be diagnosed with COVID-19. 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.
Symptoms and Vulnerable Populations
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but other cold or flu-like symptoms may occur as well. As of March 17, 2020, the CDC notes that the risk of being exposed to the virus is “still low for most Americans.” However, the CDC maintains that the most vulnerable populations are older adults (with risk increasing by age) and those with heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease, as well as immunocompromised individuals, such as those with cancers or other debilitating illnesses that affect their immune system’s ability to fend off infection. At this time, the CDC states that healthy infants and young children are no more vulnerable than healthy adults. While healthy adults are not likely to die from COVID-19, data from the CDC on March 19 shows that people aged 20-55 represent 38 percent of hospitalized patients in the US.
The most reliable information on the coronavirus outbreak comes from the CDC as well as the Colorado Department of Health & Environment. Reliable media sources include Colorado Public Radio (CPR), which maintains an updated list of frequently asked questions about the disease and its impact on local communities. The Colorado Sun features a live-updated map of documented cases.