Colorado COVID-19 News Roundup

The governor gave businesses rights to refuse anti-maskers, and schools plan for the fall. Plus, new antibody testing data

Good morning, and happy Monday!

Today, we look at news stories from around Colorado you might have missed. 

One big headline is that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, a progressive with a libertarian streak, signed an executive order allowing businesses to refuse service to customers not wearing masks. “Don't be that guy,” the governor said. “Wear a mask.” On the academic front, Polis met with charter school leaders about plans for the fall. Denver and Jefferson County schools are hashing out options for how classes might look. Lastly, our correspondent who took an antibody test last week provides updates on new results from statewide data. 

Before we begin, today’s newsletter wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the protesters demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism against Black Americans. There have been protests in all 50 states and six continents, including nine straight days of demonstrations in Colorado Springs. As large groups gather daily to do so, some are raising concerns about the spread of COVID-19, especially with data suggesting the virus already has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Last week, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver School Board Director Tay Anderson encouraged protesters to take advantage of free COVID-19 testing in Denver. (Over 1,200 health professionals have signed an open letter urging U.S. officials to not use these COVID-19 concerns as a reason to shut down protests.)

In Colorado Springs, Penrose Hospital Dr. Michael Roshon told KRDO, “It’s not about ‘Should we stop these protests?’ The question is how do we take what we know about the virus and how it’s transmitted, and how do we use that to make the protests safe?” The TV station reported the majority of Springs demonstrators have been wearing masks — but aren’t social distancing. 

😷About those masks: Colorado businesses can now turn away customers without face coverings

With a new executive order, Gov. Polis is allowing Colorado businesses to tell customers: “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” 

In a June 4 news conference, Polis said Colorado establishments can protect employees and customers by refusing service to people not wearing a face covering. He described mask-wearing as an essential “commonsense step” that could be Colorado’s “ticket to opening more quickly.”

Polis signed an earlier order in mid-April requiring all essential employees to wear masks while interacting with the public. Some municipalities, including Aspen, Boulder, and Denver, took it a step further by ordering all members of the public to wear masks in businesses and public spaces, particularly where maintaining proper social distancing is difficult. Last week’s new executive order is to clear up any remaining legal “gray area,” Polis explained.

Colorado is not the first state to give establishments the legal authority to turn away maskless customers. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a similar order May 28, and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was among the first to require employees and customers to wear masks, with an April 8 order. You can look here for a full list of states and mask requirements. 

Polis weighs in on charter school planning for the fall

During a May 29 Virtual Town Hall with the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Polis offered hints about how charter schools might look in the fall. 

He stressed that recently released guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education are only a first draft and will be revised over the summer. Despite current guidance for summer camps to keep indoor groups to 10 or fewer people, Polis said cohorts of students, essentially one class, could have up to 20 or 25 students. He added that passing periods and recess should be staggered to avoid mixing the cohorts. Even if schools plan to resume in-person instruction in the fall, Polis explained, they should be prepared to move online in the event of an outbreak to test and quarantine affected people. 

What this might mean for CC: While plans are still tentative and will likely change throughout the summer, this gives us an indication of what Colorado education leaders are considering. Colorado College has said they will release a decision about the fall by the end of June, so the clock is ticking. 

CC classes usually have between 10 and 25 students, but the Block Plan means that almost all students are in class at the same time, five days a week, for three hours at a time. Options such as staggered start times are unofficially used on campus, but many students still congregate in hallways and around buildings before and after class. Researchers at Cornell University indicate that the more “networks” a student is involved in on campus, the higher likelihood there would be for possible COVID-19 spread on campus. They note that students at undergraduate liberal arts colleges are often highly interconnected to other students.

Meanwhile, here’s what two large Colorado public school districts are discussing in their plans for fall:

Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova shared information recently about three plans a workgroup presented to the community. The triple-pronged proposal would divide all DPS students into two groups. Each option has a different attendance schedule. Under each plan, priority students would have in-person learning on Mondays. They’re collecting feedback about these options through an online survey until June 12 and will likely release a final decision by the end of the month. 

The options:

  • Option 1: ‘A’ and ‘B’ students would attend in-person classes on alternating days: Group A would be in-person on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Group B would be in-person on Wednesdays and Fridays. 

  • Option 2: ‘A’ students would attend school for two days and then ‘B’ students would come on the other two days. Ex: Tuesday and Wednesday for ‘A’ and Wednesday and Friday for ‘B.’ 

  • Option 3: ‘A’ students would come for four days (Tuesday-Friday), and then ‘B’ students would come for four days the next week. 

🚿Sanitize this: Additionally, Denver Public Schools also pushed out a video explaining how in-person learning could look. Classrooms would have no more than 16 people, and expectations to stay at least six feet apart. Everyone would remain in their classroom as much as possible. Schools will require masks, and there would be frequent breaks for hand washing or sanitizing. Before entering a building, schools could ask for wellness checks, including temperature checks. Disinfection procedures would be in place during and after the school day. 

🏀PPE but no PE?: Jefferson County public schools have put out a slideshow about “Restart Planning.” They’re considering a “hybrid” model, which would include both in-person and remote learning. All students would have remote learning every Monday and would do remote learning on the days they aren’t in-person at school. In schools, all groups of students and teachers would be limited to 10 people or fewer, and the district recommends masks for everyone. They would also close school gyms and cafeterias. They will release the final plan in July, and the first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 18. 

The options:

  • Hybrid A&B: Group A is in-person on Tuesday, and Group B is in-person on Thursday. Both groups would do remote learning on Wednesdays, and teachers would have planning time on Friday. The school would be at 50% capacity. 

  • Hybrid A&B&C: Group A is in-person on Tuesday; Group B is in-person on Wednesday; Group C is in-person on Thursday; and teachers would have planning time on Friday. The schools would be at 33% capacity.

  • Hybrid A&B&C&D: Group A is in-person on Tuesday; Group B is in-person on Wednesday; Group C is in-person on Thursday; Group D is in-person on Friday. There won’t be teacher planning time, and schools would be at 25% capacity. 

UCHealth released data for the first week of antibody testing

Last week, we showed you how the process for getting an antibody test at UCHealth in Colorado Springs looked, and whether your insurance company might pay for it. 

Our correspondent who got tested didn’t have antibodies, and now we know he’s very much in the majority of those tested so far. 

For about a week’s worth of COVID-19 antibody testing, starting June 3, UCHealth drew blood vials from 12,438 people around Colorado. Of those, 466 tested positive for antibodies — a rate of 3.7%, the health care provider said in a statement. 

UCHealth quoted its chief innovation officer, Dr. Richard Zane, saying the health provider did validation testing with people known to be positive and negative for the virus to prove the specificity of the tests.  

UCHealth staff and providers who took antibody tests had a lower rate than the general public at 2.3% positive, UCHealth stated. 

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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