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 November 24, 2020, Colorado has more than 202,289 confirmed cases of COVID-19, adding nearly 88,000 cases since November 4. More than 2,450 people have died from the disease. The rate of infection statewide is climbing, with more than 10 percent of tests coming back positive, well beyond the World Health Organization's (WHO) 5-percent threshold. A model by Colorado Department of Public Health showed that 1 in 49 Coloradans were carrying the disease by the week of Thanksgiving, as officials urged residents to cancel Thanksgiving gatherings with those outside their household.
Social distancing and mask-wearing helped flatten Colorado's rate of infection in late summer, but the virus is now surging in the fall. To help flatten the curve again, residents must observe mask and social distancing guidelines and limit their interactions with other people. State officials continue to encourage these behaviors to avoid overwhelming hospital systems in winter 2020.
Recommendations and Testing
Colorado has tested over 1.2 million people for the coronavirus since the pandemic began. 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 100,000 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.
On June 2, 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 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. 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.
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 system’s ability to fend off infection. Although rare, severe cases in younger people and healthy adults can also result in hospitalization and death.
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 blog about the disease and its impact on local communities. The Colorado Sun features a live-updated map of documented cases.