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Boulder-area officials gaining clarity on upcoming public health, economic impacts of coronavirus

Path forward beginning to be forged as world reels through pandemic

Boulder City Council Member Mirabai Kuk Nagle pets her cat Purrim while remotely joining a council meeting from her home in Boulder on March 24, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Boulder and regional officials are beginning to see a clearer picture of the impacts on health care systems and local economies likely to be hammered by the novel coronavirus pandemic in the coming weeks and months.

Carelli’s of Boulder waitress Lianet Carromero cuts garlic bread for a to-go order on Monday at the Italian restaurant in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

As testing for the virus that causes COVID-19 locally lags behind the rate needed to keep up with a true accounting of its infiltration, Boulder County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Zayach continues to estimate the actual spread is 50 times greater than the current positive case count, City Council was told in a Tuesday meeting held via video conference.

Health care system leaders are preparing for a peak surge of cases in the state potentially by the end of next month and into May, Zayach said, and a regional stay-at-home order is set to take effect imminently in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the peak contagion as manageable as possible for hospitals and medical supply providers.

Boulder on Monday passed a municipal public health order encouraging residents to stay at home as much as possible, with travel and activity for only essential services to be allowed; the order can be viewed at bouldercolorado.gov/coronavirus.

The regional order is set to apply in incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county, with the more stringent on human travel and gathering of either the regional order and any municipal orders set to be the dominant measure in any such areas.

“Our intention tomorrow is that we will amend our order to conform completely to the Boulder County Public Health order so it is seamless throughout the county,” City Manager Jane Brautigam said. “… Our plan is that our police cannot be enforcing every person who might be out on the street. … We intend to enforce this a lot through education and encouragement, and certainly if a police officer or park ranger were to see someone violating an order, they will comment to them there is an issue, but we won’t be arresting anyone or issuing any tickets unless we have someone who is a constant person violating the order.”

While the state’s caseload of 912 as of Tuesday afternoon — with 84 of those hospitalized, or about 9% of the total, and 11 fatalities, with the fatality rate at about 1% — is similar to what was seen internationally, according to Zayach, more young people are being infected in Colorado and the United States than areas of the globe struck previously.

“That’s concerning to me because I think that in general younger people have taken some of the measures less seriously,” Councilwoman Rachel Friend said.

Among confirmed Boulder County cases as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, 28% are individuals 19 to 29 years old, 44% are in individuals 30 to 59 years old and 28% are people 60 and older, Zayach said.

Boulder Community Health CEO Dr. Robert Vissers said hospital stays related to the virus look to be averaging about three weeks, including time meant to isolate people to prevent further spread, with 10 to 14 days in intensive care possible.

The local health system feels confident it could increase its bed capacity and ventilator inventory by about four to five times its current stock, Vissers said, including by using machines not traditionally used as ventilators.

Getting virus patients out of the hospital once they no longer need a high level of care will be a challenge during the peak, Vissers said, but hospital systems and the state are working on developing secondary facilities for recoveries and isolation until they are noninfectious.

“There are a lot of excellent discussions going on there,” Vissers said.

Meanwhile, city leaders in government and business are also beginning to address economic concerns as the fallout of foot traffic in areas once highly traveled, withdrawal of capital from financial markets and increasing uncertainty plagues commerce across the planet as public health departments respond to the virus take effect.

“I know the concept of a rent holiday is one that has a lot of concern around it,” Mayor Sam Weaver said. “… There are some groups that don’t need much help right now to weather this because they have a ton of resources. There are some groups that are going to be on the edge and one month or two months will put them out. Some will qualify for income-related assistance that others can’t access. It has to be equitable in the sense that we don’t want small landlords to be put out of business because they have to provide a rent holiday. I don’t have all the answers.”

Carl Castillo, the city’s chief state and policy adviser, provided an update on what would be included in a $1.8 trillion economic stimulation package being considered in Congress in response to the jarring virus. It includes billions in possible low-interest loans for small business through the Small Business Administration, as well as possible payments to individuals and families impacted by the pandemic.

The Colorado-based Common Sense Policy Roundtable think tank released an analysis Tuesday showing a potential reduction by 50% in business in retail, arts, entertainment and recreation, accommodation and food services and drinking places sectors, and employment reductions by about 183,000 jobs, or 4.6% of the state’s workforce, as a result of the measures in place to fight the virus.

Recent estimates forecast the state will face a $1 billion reduction in revenue from previous projections for the next budget cycle; those estimates will only be revised downward, it appears, the organization said.

“There have been no greater policy shifts enacted in history,” Chris Brown, director of policy and research for the think tank, stated in a news release. “While we remain hopeful that the most significant impacts of the actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be felt in the short term, it is important to be aware and consider the potential longer-term impacts on the economy as well.”

The Boulder Chamber sent a letter to the Council noting that landlords representing more than 1,200 business tenants are committed to sustaining businesses through this period.

“There is no one set of rules to apply to every landlord-tenant situation, and each should be addressed in a manner that meets their unique needs,” Boulder Chamber CEO and President John Tayer said in the letter. “In all cases, as is clear in the attached resolution, no property owner or manager has an interest in losing a tenant.”

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