Amid protests, Colorado lawmakers float bill to counter police brutality – The Denver Post

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday, walking past spray-painted messages like “good cop = dead cop,” mere hours after the building’s grounds were covered with a massive crowd of protesters and tear gas filled the air.

For portions of the day, a spectator inside the building would have had no reason to think that anything has changed recently even as as outside protesters trickled onto the Capitol lawn for a fifth day of unrest over George Floyd’s death. In the Senate, lawmakers debated a bill concerning union powers. The House took up a slew of bills, including one proposing to change standards for how egg-laying hens are housed.

But some lawmakers, already swamped by a myriad of coronavirus-related challenges — among other tasks, they’re trying to quickly pass a budget with about $3 billion in cuts — say that the message of the protests is not lost on them, and that they intend to take action.

Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who has joined protesters downtown during the day, is planning to introduce a bill as soon as Tuesday that she said is aimed at addressing police brutality and accountability in Colorado by removing the shield of immunity for prosecution from law enforcement officers found to have acted unlawfully. It would allow them to be sued in their individual capacities; currently attorney fees and settlements are paid out by cities and counties at taxpayer expense.

The news organization Denverite, reporting a snapshot of an eight-month period, found in 2017 that $2.78 million in taxpayer money had gone to eight Denver Police Department settlements.

“I believe law enforcement should be held to a standard of integrity, respect and responsibility and the bill will reflect that,” Herod told The Denver Post on Monday. “We need to ensure that law enforcement officers who act outside of their authority, who harm and murder people, especially people of color, unlawfully, are held accountable.”

Herod said a Denver Post investigation into police shootings across the state sparked conversations about the issue at the beginning of the session, and since the killing of George Floyd, lawmakers have brought those conversations back. She also said she’s working with the black and Latinx caucuses, and that Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, is working with her on the bill. That his name will be attached is an indication not only of where he stands on the bill but of the odds that it gets passed; a member of leadership generally has power to ensure their bill gets a serious hearing in a way other members may not.

Garcia’s remarks about police violence and public trust in law enforcement have been significantly more pointed than those from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis.

“This isn’t just about what’s going on in other states,” Garcia said. “This is about what’s happening in our own backyards. And sadly, we shouldn’t need body cams and people using their cell phones to catch the lack of integrity. We must address the issues that are associated with police brutality and this bias or it’s going to erode the profession.”

Garcia said law enforcement agencies in Colorado do a good job when first hiring officers to ensure they meet standards, but they need to continue to monitor them.

He said he believes most cops are heroes but added in an interview Monday: “We have officers who lack integrity and violate the law, every day, that they’re sworn to uphold. We should care about that as elected officials.”

Other lawmakers spoke publicly Monday on the protests, including Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat who from the House floor called for holding “law enforcement officers who abuse their privilege accountable,” and who condemned rioting but said he supports the right to protest.

“I’ve had to talk to my son,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who sits on the Black Caucus with Coleman. “We have to teach our young men how to behave when you get pulled over by the police, because if you don’t, you might end up not being about to breathe.”

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Coronavirus: Colorado unemployment rate soars to 11.3% in April

Colorado’s unemployment rate shot up to 11.3% in April and employers in the state shed an estimated 323,500 jobs last month due to the pandemic and related closures, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Friday.

The number of unemployed workers in the state rose by 183,800 last month to 347,800, pushing the unemployment rate up from a revised 5.2% in March. It was a historically low 2.5% in February, with around 80,000 unemployed workers.

Colorado’s unemployment rate has hit the highest level in a series that goes back to 1976 and surpassed the high of 8.9% reached during the fall of 2010 in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

As bad as that increase is, Colorado, remains below the 14.7% U.S. unemployment rate, an all-time high in records going back to 1948. It also remains on the low end among states. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in April at 28.2%, followed by Michigan at 22.7% and Hawaii at 22.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although more than 476,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits in Colorado since mid-March, they represent about 13.3% of the number of employed in February, which was the fourth-lowest share of any state. In states like Georgia and Kentucky, about four in 10 of the workers employed in February have sought assistance.

There could also be some confusion among furloughed workers about their employment status, reducing the number of unemployed. Some people on furlough may still view themselves as employed, even though technically they aren’t putting in any hours and should be counted as unemployed.

The household survey estimates 67,400 workers last month took themselves completely out of the labor market, pushing the state’s labor force down to 3,069,200. The number of people reporting themselves as employed, which also captures the self-employed, decreased by 251,200 to 2,721,300.

The number of nonfarm payroll jobs in Colorado declined by 323,500 from March to April, leaving the state with 2,473,400 jobs, according to a separate survey of business establishments. Private-sector employers cut 311,400 jobs, while the public sector lost 12,100 jobs.

March payroll losses were also revised higher, from 3,900 in the initial report to 16,500 in Friday’s report.

Leisure and hospitality suffered the largest number of job losses between March and April on a seasonally-adjusted basis at 148,100, not unexpected given the closure of so many hotels and restaurants.

Educational and health services were down 43,800 jobs, which reflects the closure of medical offices and schools. Trade, transportation and utilities were down 41,800, capturing the closure of retail stores and reductions in airlines and shuttle services. Professional and business services, which are amenable to remote working, were down 28,500. Other services, a category that includes hairstylists at tattoo parlors, was down 19,800 jobs. Construction employment fell by 12,700.

Only the information sector was able to avoid significant job losses last month, staying flat.

Pitkin County had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 23.1%, followed by Gilpin County at 23%. San Miguel, Summit and Eagle counties were all above 20% unemployment. Several counties on the Eastern Plains remained below 5%.

Grand Junction registered the highest unemployment rate among metro areas at 12.6%, followed by Colorado Springs at 12.3%. Metro Denver’s unemployment rate came in at 12.1% Boulder and Greeley had the lowest metro unemployment rates at 9.7% and 9.8%.

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Police arrest Colorado woman accused of violating Hawaii’s coronavirus quarantine

A Colorado woman was arrested in Hawaii on Saturday after police there said she failed to comply with the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers.

Tara Trunfio, 23, could face up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine for violating the two-week self-quarantine put in place in March by Hawaii Gov. David Y. Ige to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Anyone visiting or returning to Hawaii is required to isolate themselves for two weeks upon arrival, only going out for a medical emergency or to seek medical care.

Trunfio acknowledged the quarantine restrictions when she arrived on the island of Maui, according to the Maui Police Department, but did not follow them after she left the airport. Police put out an “all-points bulletin” for her arrest Friday and posted about the situation on Facebook, reaching more than 300,000 people as thousands of users commented on the post.

Trunfio, whose Facebook page says she lives in Boulder, was arrested early Saturday morning after police were dispatched to a residence in Kula, a town on Maui, for a woman who was refusing to leave the property around 2 a.m. Police arrived and discovered Trunfio, who they arrested.

Her bond was set at $4,000. Trunfio could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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Colorado water leads to drought, fire risk and weaker-than-average streamflow

One of Colorado’s driest Aprils on record has led to diminished mountain streamflow and snow at 76% of the norm for this time of year as warmer temperatures accelerate melting.

The paltry snowpack and lack of rain over the past month resulted in lagging flows in all the major river basins, more than a month before summer, the latest federal surveys show.

River basins in southern Colorado received less than half of average precipitation, with the Rio Grande River Basin registering 16% of the norm between 1981 and 2010, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

Most survey sites in the San Juan Mountains and Sangre de Cristo Mountains recorded the lowest or second-lowest April precipitation on record, the data show.

Northern Colorado river basins received more water but measured well below the norm at 77% to 84%.

Federal monitoring now shows more than half of Colorado facing drought, extreme on the southeast plains and in the upper Rio Grande Basin.

“Dry soils underlying the snowpack can absorb much of the snowmelt in the spring, which has the potential to substantially decrease the amount of water that actually makes it to a stream channel to contribute to runoff,” federal hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer said.

“Because of this effect, it is anticipated that streamflows will be less than are commonly observed in other years with a similar snowpack peak — particularly in the southern half of the state,” Wetlaufer said.

It’s been a roller-coaster year, in line with a climate-driven trend toward increased variability. As recently as April 20, federal data showed snowpack statewide measuring 104% of the norm.

But on Friday, while snowpack along headwaters of the South Platte River that feeds northeastern Colorado remained about normal, the snow measured 87% along headwaters of the closely-watched Colorado River — a crucial source for 40 million people across seven western states.

And in Colorado’s central and southern mountains, snow in the Arkansas River Basin measured 69% of the norm and 33% along headwaters of the Rio Grande River. Gunnison River Basin snow has decreased to 57%, and snow along the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers decreased to 48% of the norm for this time of year.

Snow in Colorado’s high mountains serves as a natural reservoir, holding water until spring, when rising temperatures melt the snow. This sends water into streams, then rivers — and manmade reservoirs.

Federal data showed reservoirs around the state mostly full. Their purpose has been to help people endure dry times. Agriculture in Colorado uses about 85% of water supplies.

This dry spring also has created conditions favoring fire. National Weather Service meteorologists issued “red flag” alerts last week as high wind combined with dryness to raise risks. Camp fires and other open fires were prohibited in several counties over the weekend. April and May historically have ranked among relatively wet months with ample rain and snow.

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Colorado lawmakers give up on paid family leave bill, will support ballot measure

Sponsors are abandoning efforts to start a paid family and medical leave program in Colorado via legislation, announcing Friday they will instead support a ballot initiative already under way that’s aiming for the November ballot.

Since the beginning, the plan faced rough waters, but after the new coronavirus pandemic forced the General Assembly to recess, legislators won’t introduce a bill at all, the four Democratic would-be sponsors said. State Sens. Faith Winter and Dominick Moreno and Reps. Matt Gray and Yadira Caraveo announced the decision Friday morning.

The pandemic cut the legislators’ ability to solicit input from businesses and other stakeholders, Caraveo said.

In addition, some were pushing hard for compromises that would have likely left gig, part-time and low-income workers without benefits, Winter said — an unacceptable concession.

“We’ve seen those workers step up and keep everything running right now,” Winter said. “We weren’t going to accept a policy that didn’t include those workers.”

The issue has taken heat from both sides of the aisle. Some advocates voiced concerns that the measure as suggested would require employers to provide paid family leave to employees either in-house or through the private insurance market.

In late February, the measure’s lead sponsors, Winter and Gray, learned that their partners on the measure, Sen. Angela Williams and Rep. Monica Duran, would drop their names from the legislation. Both voiced concern that the measure wouldn’t sufficiently protect Colorado’s most vulnerable workers.

That loss of support signaled a large problem for the bill, as Democrats hold a narrow 19-16 majority in the Senate.

Caraveo signed on as a new sponsor, but then the legislature abruptly adjourned as the coronavirus began spreading through Colorado.

Facing the political and epidemiological challenges, the options became to either pass a measure that was “not very substantial” or to back a ballot initiative, Caraveo said.

Earlier in the year, a group called Colorado Families First announced a plan to introduce a ballot measure and noted significant financial support.

The group still needs to collect petitions to earn a spot on the ballot, Caraveo said. And it apparently plans to do so by phone, keeping the recommended social distancing requirements in mind.

“Their idea is that they will be sending text messages out by neighborhood and say ‘If you’re interested in signing the petition we’re going to be in your neighborhood on such and such a day,’” Caraveo said.

A ballot measure would almost certainly draw substantial opposition from business groups and a defeat at the polls could set back the issue for some time. Still, Gray said, polling suggests most Coloradans support the idea.

“When you start somewhere between 65 and 83% it takes more of a campaign to beat that than it does a campaign to win for it,” he said.

Plus, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted many of the shortcomings in the current system, Winter said. A quarter of women go back to work just two weeks after giving birth, and she noted that even cancer patients must balance their treatment with the ability to work and pay bills.

“Frankly, the time to deal with this was 3 or 4 years ago so we would have this in place right now,” Gray said.

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Safer at work? Colorado drafting rules to allow COVID vulnerable to stay on unemployment

Colorado workers in a few fields got a taste of the state’s new normal on Monday, returning to the shops, homes they are showing to prospective buyers and even surgical suites where they worked before Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay at home order on March 25.

Scores more workers could leave their homes and head back to the workplace over the next 10 days as Polis loosens restrictions on retailers and office-based businesses as part of his less strict “safer at home” phase of the state’s coronavirus response.

But a recent survey of Coloradans found that just 29% of people are in favor of easing health safety measures for the sake of kick-starting the state’s economy.

The rollback has sparked a lot of questions for the state’s labor department. Workers impacted by the virus have been filing unemployment claims at a record-shattering clip and now some of them stand to lose benefits if they are called back to work and don’t comply.

“The big questions of the day for the workers is, ‘I don’t feel safe. Do I have to go back to work?’” Cher Haavind, deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said Monday. “If you are on unemployment do you risk losing your benefits if you refuse to return to work? And, as with everything with unemployment, it depends.”

Polis, in an executive order Sunday, directed the labor department to draft emergency rules to ensure people, particularly those deemed “vulnerable individuals,” would not lose benefits if they refused to go back to work and their workplace had “COVID-19-related demonstrable, unsafe working conditions.”

The rules have not been finalized yet but a draft provided to The Denver Post on Monday lays out four criteria the state is likely to use when deciding if a worker can still collect benefits if they turn down an offer to return to work: the objective level of risk the person’s workplace; the normal level of risk that workplace would present without coronavirus; the worker’s coronavirus vulnerability as determined by professional medical standards; and, finally, the vulnerability of anyone the worker might live with.

The rules could be finalized as soon as Tuesday, Haavind said. The labor department has also added information to its website focused on return-to-work questions.

By visiting colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/covid-19/return-to-work, workers can find a list of resources, including directions to contact the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, if they spot workplace safety violations. The site also links to a frequently-asked-questions document. The FAQ sheet includes information for people who have been deemed vulnerable but are being called back to the workplace.

“Per Safer at Home Executive Order D 2020 044, no vulnerable individuals can be compelled by their employer to return to work if their work requires in-person work near others,” the document reads. “If the workplace is particularly unsafe — e.g., if it had an outbreak — unemployment benefits might be available, depending on the facts, and OSHA safety rules might limit requirements to return.”

Aaron Collins, 37, of Denver, is preparing to go back to work as a project manager at Fin Art, a local furniture shop focused on serving bars and restaurants. With just six employees and a 25,000-square-foot shop, Collins feels Fin Art is prepared to adhere to social distancing rules but the business is taking extra precautions.

 

“What we have decided to do is to run it in shifts,” Collins said Monday. “We’re trying to keep it to three people in the shop at one time. That’s a safe social distance. (We) have a bunch of alcohol sprays we use on hand tools and passing those around and wearing dust masks and respirators in the shop.”

Collins notes that while none of his coworkers have pre-existing health conditions that might make them vulnerable to COVID-19, three of them have kids.

“I wouldn’t ask an employee to come back to work who was worried about it,” he said.

Some businesses — even those not subject to more stringent stay-at-home rules in place in Denver and surrounding counties — are choosing to wait rather than rush to reopen.

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce surveyed more than 80 businesses of various sizes from around the state early last week and found that half of those that responded approved of a phased approach to reopening nonessential business. While 37% wanted to see that happen as soon as possible, 12% of respondents at the time felt it was to soon to consider reopening nonessential businesses.

Forty-five percent of business owners expressed concern about the legal liability they might face if they opened up and an employee contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.

Denver Post staff writer Tiney Ricciardi contributed to this report.

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Colorado COVID-19 diaries: A day in the coronavirus pandemic

A teacher greets her students. An imam counsels his congregants. A firefighter reports for duty. New parents take their baby home from the hospital.

These are routine moments in the lives of Coloradans. But the coronavirus has transformed the routine into the remarkable, upending how we live and interact with each other.

As a heavy spring snow blanketed the state on Thursday, April 16, journalists from news organizations across Colorado set out to chronicle a day in the life of the state’s residents during this extraordinary time.

It happened that this day was the deadliest to date in the U.S. for the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,500 people died. Colorado’s state health department reported 17 more deaths, and that the death toll had hit 374 — a figure that would later balloon to more than 500 as more reports of COVID-19 victims surfaced.

The statewide order to shut down non-essential businesses — issued a month before to the day  — had taken a toll. In that month-long period, more than 231,000 people filed for unemployment, just short of the 285,000 unemployment claims filed in all of 2009 during the height of the great recession.

The Colorado stories of April 16 show how much has changed in such a short amount of time. Teachers now instruct students over screens. Doctors speak to patients through masks and face shields. Newborn babies are quarantined from sick parents.

But the journalists also chronicled how, even as Colorado stares down uncertainty, death and illness, life goes on. Birthdays are celebrated. Prayers are said.

And in what feels like a dark hour, there are moments of hope.

7 a.m.: Venture For Success Preparatory Learning Center, Denver

Dressed in purple scrub pants and a print top, Catherine Scott started her work day with a spray bottle of bleach solution, wiping down door handles, tables and a laptop keyboard.

Scott is not a health care worker, but a preschool teacher — often tasked with opening the child care center where she works in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood.

When children began arriving with their parents, Scott met them at the front door, thermometer in hand. After temperature checks, parents logged their child’s arrival on the laptop, and everybody washed their hands in the sink up front.

Scott had just three children in her classroom — a 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old. It was a far cry from the usual 15 she would have on a day without coronavirus.

After many child care providers closed last month, state officials recommended they stay open, with precautions, to care for the children of working parents.

One of the biggest challenges of preschool in the coronavirus era is social distancing. Instead of the usual snuggles and hugs, Scott has switched to distance hugs, air high fives, and pats on the back. One student spontaneously jumped into her lap, then quickly realized her mistake.

“I sorry,” the girl said. “Air high five.”

Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat

7 a.m.:  Work & Class restaurant in Denver

By the time Tabatha Knop walked into her Larimer Street restaurant, her chefs had been there an hour, making carnitas to fill breakfast burritos for whoever would venture out that day in the snow.

Knop’s schedule hadn’t changed much from five weeks ago, but her team had. In early March, business was thrumming six nights a week for the destination-dinner spot.

Work & Class’ motto has always been “square meal, stiff drink, fair price.” It sits across the street from sister restaurant Super Mega Bien, which Knop and her business partners shuttered for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown after laying off 57 employees in a single day.

“We’ve stopped counting the days, really; we’re mostly just counting the weeks,” Knop said. “Every day feels the same, sort of, at this point.”

The team on Friday would deliver 91 burritos to families in Curtis Park through that neighborhood association’s Meal Train. Saturday’s orders included 200 meals for Swedish Medical Center. Knop said a few more of her cooks volunteered to help with evening prep.

Even with Super Mega Bien closed, Knop was dealing with unexpected costs there. Two nights prior, a window at the entrance was broken around 1 a.m., “but thank God (whoever did it) was not able to get in,” Knop said.

Josie Sexton, The Denver Post

8 a.m.: COVID-19 unit, St. Joseph Hospital, Denver

Dr. Peter Stubenrauch reviewed patients’ charts with his medical team during morning rounds.

Nearly every patient in the unit was on a ventilator, that precious piece of equipment that can be the difference between life and death during the coronavirus crisis.

The medical guidance on COVID-19 is evolving fast. Stubenrauch, a critical care pulmonologist with National Jewish Health, which staffs and manages the ICU, said doctors use the “tried and true” approaches to respiratory illness and are eyeing experimental treatments being developed. He recommended that one of his patients be added to a promising drug study. If she’s accepted, she could get the drug or a placebo the research requires. He can’t know.

Consultations with families are done by phone. Discussing life and death matters but not doing it face to face, with family members who can’t even be together with their loved one, is heartbreaking. And the uncertainty about COVID-19 means preparing families for the worst.

“You by no means have any interest in giving up on a patient, particularly someone who came into the intensive care unit relatively recently,” Stubenrauch said. But he must “also set the expectation that we’re observing a lot of patients who remain on mechanical ventilation for prolonged periods of time and can quite suddenly take turns for the worse and pass away.”

By his shift’s end, the news in the unit was brighter. There were no new admissions for the day.

Kelley Griffin, CPR News

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock listens during the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Public Information Officer Loa Esquilin, right, asks a question to Logistics section chief Todd Richardson, left, at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock cleans his hands with sanitizer before the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Community Planner David Gaspers discusses recovery planning scenarios during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock, front right, listens to questions during a meeting in the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Seth Foldy of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority adjusts his mask at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday. April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, talks with Bob McDonald, Department of Public Health & Environment executive director, after the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Safety Administrator Sharon Davis updates a report during the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock heads to his office from the Emergency Operations Center during a lunch break at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock checks messages at his office in the Denver City and County building on Thursday. April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock heads to Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center for a blood donation on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock, right, donates blood with help from Trevor Hall at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

9:10 a.m.: Denver City and County Building

Speaking in a basement room of a mostly quiet City and County building, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told a dozen Emergency Operations Center staff gathered before him and others watching online that citizens need the safety and security only they can provide.

Hancock’s days are filled with meetings. Questions and concerns pile up with each one.

More residents are ignoring the stay-at-home order he put in place through the end of April to control the spread of the virus. How can Denver ease restrictions equitably? Will businesses hurt more if they open at half capacity? Should there be a curfew?

The city government, like public agencies across Colorado, faces a dire loss of tax revenue from virus-prompted shutdowns and potential furloughs of employees and other steps.

“In every challenge, the people are looking for that group of people who are going to stand up and fight on their behalf,” Hancock said. “We’re the people. We’re the ones.”

Conrad Swanson, The Denver Post

11:15 a.m.: Avery Parsons Elementary School, Buena Vista

The vehicles pulled into the parking lot on the west side of the school.

Michelle Cunningham was there in a surgical mask and gloves, greeting parents and students by name and giving them thumbs-up signs and smiles in lieu of high-fives and hugs.

The school counselor has been struck by the volume of families showing up for free meals. Though nearly one-third of the school district’s roughly 1,100 students are eligible for government-subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty, only about 40 children a day typically take advantage, she said. Now the district is handing out 400 meals a day, she said.

“As counselors, we know brains work best when physiological needs are met,” Cunningham said. “Its benefits go beyond food. I’m out where I connect with families.”

In communities across the country, school buildings closed for learning remain open for meal distribution, extending a social safety net during the crisis. That holds true in Buena Vista, a tourism-dependent community set amid the majestic Collegiate Peaks.

With retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses closed, hundreds of families are out of work.

Even so, Cunningham said she is proud of how the community has rallied.

“The school board, the business owners, the community leaders, the churches, the school’s lunch ladies … Everyone is stepping up in so many ways to support each other.”

Jan Wondra, Ark Valley Voice

Noon: Parking lot of the El Jebel Laundromat, Eagle County

Fabiola Grajales waited for the nose swab that would tell her whether she was finally free of the coronavirus and able to be near her family again.

In one of Colorado’s COVID-19 hotspots, a coalition of Eagle County Public Health, MidValley Family Practice and the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance has set up this free mobile testing site.

Grajales, 27, a medical assistant at a Glenwood Springs clinic, said she started feeling sick March 2 and tested positive for the virus March 6. Over the next week, her cough worsened and she experienced shortness of breath.

“You know when you step on dry leaves? I could hear that sound coming from my lungs.”

“You get really bad headaches,” Grajales continued. “You feel like your eyes, they’re going to pop out. I couldn’t smell or taste anything.”

Doctors at Grand View Hospital in Rifle confirmed she had pneumonia and treated her there but didn’t admit her, she said.

She self-isolated for 10 days before symptoms disappeared. But a follow-up test showed she still had coronavirus. After more rest, Grajales feels “90% better, maybe 95,” she said.

Waiting her turn for yet another test, Grajales said the knowledge and contacts she’s gained working in health care helped her acquire tests and treatment, with some effort.

“It was hard for me,” she said. “I can’t imagine how hard it would be for other people.”

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times

1:30 p.m.: Self-storage locker, Grand Junction

The self-storage yard was empty when Dawna Numbers arrived.

The rain had paused, so the 48-year-old moved quickly to load her clothes in plastic bags into the back of her red Kia for the long journey on a mostly empty interstate.

With no money for rent, Numbers was headed for her mother’s house on the Front Range.

Numbers has been out of work since March 25, when the coronavirus outbreak eliminated her night shift job at a fishing-line factory in Grand Junction. Like many Americans, she had tried fruitlessly to file for unemployment benefits. The state unemployment office had been slammed with more than 230,000 new claims in the last month, slowing services to a crawl.

“I’ve never just felt so alone,” she said. Maybe this crisis would bring out something better in people, she hoped. Maybe she’d have better luck in Denver.

“We just need to do the best we can and hopefully this ends soon and somehow we can go back to some kind of normal life,” she said. “Or hopefully better than it was before.”

Andrew Kenney, CPR News

2 p.m.: On the road from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek

Nolan Christopher Dreher’s parents tucked him into his car seat in the back of their Toyota Highlander and drove snowy roads from Steamboat Springs to their home in Oak Creek. Nolan, cozy in a white onesie with bears on it, was two days old and on his way to meet his brothers.

Lauren Dreher was hoping she had been careful enough, that the nurses and doctors and the woman who came in her hospital room to take out the trash were not infected with the virus.

“At the end of the day you have to know that you did everything you could do,” she said. “I’m just hoping that that’s enough. I was trying so hard not to touch my face. You’re in labor and you brush your hair out of your face and wipe your brow.”

Dreher, who had a complicated second pregnancy, planned to give birth to Nolan in Denver with an at-risk pregnancy specialist. She changed her mind as she watched COVID-19 cases climb in the city. Plus, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center isn’t nearly as busy.

“It was just kind of eerie how quiet it was,” Dreher said. Adding to that surreal feeling was the fact that “everyone you came into contact with was wearing a mask, from the security guard to the nurses and doctors.” Dreher’s delivery team wore N95 masks and face shields.

The Drehers are both furloughed. Lauren works for an orthodontist, and Christopher works at a French restaurant in Steamboat. They are trying to look at the bright side — more time with their new baby and sons Calvin, 6, and Landon, 4.

By late afternoon all were back in their warm home with a fresh blanket of snow outside, the first time together as a family of five.

Jennifer Brown, Colorado Sun

4:44 p.m.: Masjid Al-Shuhada, downtown Denver

In a building that can hold up to 200 praying together, Imam Muhammad Kolila was alone as he prayed the Salat al-‘asr, one of Islam’s five daily prayers.

“One of the things I really miss about community, before coronavirus, is that sense of belonging and that sense of human, physical interactions,” he said afterward.

Kolila has highlighted such teachings online. Like religious leaders of all faith traditions, Kolila has been streaming services — in his case, since March 16 — to provide spiritual direction at a trying time and keep his congregation connected as best he can.

“One of the main objectives and one of the main missions of this mosque is to provide a safe space for people to come and pray, and connect with God, but right now we cannot create that safe space–physically,” he said. “This is why our biggest challenge is to create the space virtually.”

Victoria Carodine, 5280

5 p.m.: Fire Station 52, Brighton

Capt. Colin Brunt climbed into Brighton Fire Rescue Tower 51, a 46-foot long fire truck with a ladder. Trailed by his colleagues in Engine 52, Brunt traveled to Bason Kramer’s house to wish the 5-year-old a happy birthday. When they arrived, the crews switched on their lights and honked their horns while a firefighter stepped out to hand the boy a certificate.

This was not a typical day for the Brighton Fire Department, but it was a welcome one.

Since COVID-19 began to spread, Brunt has worked six 48-hour rotations.

Before the birthday party, Brunt’s unit extinguished a car fire, helped out on a call of a tractor-trailer hanging off the side of a highway and responded to a fire alarm. Brunt takes a mask and worries about exposure to the coronavirus.

“That’s our worst-case scenario that goes through all of our heads, bringing something back to our family,” said Brunt, who is married and has two daughters in kindergarten.

Birthday drive-bys — which more fire departments are doing to lift the spirits of children stuck at home — and other non-coronavirus calls are a nice change. “It’s a morale booster,” Brunt said.

Liam Adams, MetroWest newspapers

6:30 p.m.: home of Cat and Zach Garcia, Aurora

Cat Garcia had been waiting for the call from the nurses at the neonatal intensive care unit, hoping to hear good news about her baby twin boys she had yet to meet.

Three weeks earlier, she lay in St. Joseph Hospital about to undergo an emergency cesarean section. Garcia wasn’t due for another six weeks but her doctors felt like they had little choice: She had tested positive for COVID-19, had pneumonia, and was having difficulty breathing.

Bright lights filled the room. Doctors and nurses were covered from head to toe in PPE. The drugs began to take hold, and everything went dark.

When Garcia woke up, she had a breathing tube in her mouth. A nurse held up her phone to show pictures of her newborn sons, Kal and Bruce. It was the closest she was going to get to them.

Garcia’s husband, Zach, who works for the Transportation Security Administration at Denver International Airport, had begun to show symptoms of COVID-19 on March 19. Cat Garcia developed a violent cough not long after.

Released from the hospital while Kal and Bruce gained strength in the NICU, Garcia returned home. She pumped milk and unpacked baby clothes while hoping for good news.

When the call came, the news wasn’t good. The twins — both of whom have tested negative for the coronavirus — still weren’t feeding well enough. Watching them on the NICU webcam would have to do for a while longer.

“We haven’t been able to hold them or see them,” Garcia said.

Three days later, the twins were sleeping in car seats on their way home, dressed in matching powder-blue pajamas and hooked up to oxygen to help them breathe.

Adilene Guajardo, Denver 7

11:30 p.m.: Dr. Mercedes Rincon’s home office, Aurora

For nearly three decades, Dr. Mercedes Rincon has studied a molecule so obscure and unremarkable that even her colleagues tease her about it.

The Spanish-born professor in the University of Colorado’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology was doing postdoctoral work at Yale when she stumbled upon an article about interleukin-6, or IL-6.

She became fascinated with the molecule commonly produced in inflammation, which is familiar to arthritis and cancer researchers searching for treatments.

When the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on human lungs, Rincon saw a familiar microscopic face in the mix: IL-6 is consistently present in the lungs of the most severely affected patients.

Whether IL-6 is a cause or a consequence of the coronavirus, Rincon isn’t sure. But she hypothesizes that drugs like tocilizumab, traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could possibly target IL-6 and prevent it from producing more damaging inflammatory molecules.

Early results from studies in China, as well as research in Europe and at the University of Vermont, show some promise.

“We can’t conclude anything yet,” she cautioned. “We have to be careful. We need more data.”

 

As the clock approached midnight, a long day coming to a close, Rincon got to work crafting a grant proposal. She wants the University of Colorado to be at the forefront of this research.

With a little funding and a little luck, Rincon and her obscure molecule might just provide Coloradans — and the rest of the world — with a reason to hope.

Jay Bouchard, 5280

This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. The Denver Post joined this collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.

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Colorado prisoners are producing masks for use in prisons for less than $1 an hour

For less than a dollar an hour, Colorado prisoners are sewing more than 4,500 masks a day for Department of Corrections staff and inmates.

Inmates working through Colorado Correctional Industries started making the masks in late March, about a week before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of masks in everyday life. The masks were first distributed to staff and now are being given to prisoners, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams said at a virtual town hall Thursday.

By April 15, prisoners had produced 14,297 masks for corrections staff and 19,107 masks for inmates, according to the department. Staff received the masks first because they are the people traveling in and out of facilities every day and therefore more likely to transmit the virus, Williams said in an interview with The Denver Post. Corrections officers and other employees are now required to wear face coverings at work.

“The risk that we’re going to get it inside the walls is it getting introduced by well-meaning staff,” he said.

The masks are being produced through Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the Department of Corrections that receives no state funding, according to its website. Prisoners in the jobs program produce office furniture, dorm beds, flags and license plates. Inmates also work in agriculture and on wildland firefighting crews. The goal is to teach prisoners work skills that will help them find a job after release.

The inmates making masks are paid $5 between $6 a day, depending on their experience and the number of masks they’re making, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Annie Skinner said. Williams acknowledged in an interview that the pay was “very small” though inmates were receiving bonus pay for making the masks.

Williams said during a virtual town hall Thursday that some of the inmate workers are happy to be making masks.

“They feel like they’re a part of something now,” he said.

Several state prison systems are using inmate labor to produce coronavirus essentials like hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island jail are being paid $6 an hour to dig mass graves for the bodies of those who died of COVID-19.

On average, prisoners working in state-owned corrections industries earn between 33 cents and $1.41 per hour, according to a 2017 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative. Inmate workers in some states are not paid at all.

Williams said Thursday that he will consider selling the masks to other states who are requesting them once Colorado’s needs are met.

During the Thursday town hall, Williams warned that the coming months will not be easy for the prison system. Three inmates have tested positive: two at the Sterling Correctional Facility and one at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex who transferred from the Denver jail. Eight staff members have tested positive and 160 Department of Corrections staff members were on quarantine status on Thursday.

“We know our challenges in many ways have just begun,” Williams said.

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