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Boulder County’s coronavirus death total increases to 28

Officials consider stay-at-home extension while city, county lengthen building closures

Boulder County Treasurer Paul Weissmann, right, collects a property tax payment from Brock Borman outside of the Treasurer’s Office inside the Boulder County Courthouse on Thursday on Pearl Street in Boulder. County officials announced Thursday that most county buildings, with limited exceptions like the treasurer’s office, would remain closed through May 31. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)
Boulder County Treasurer Paul Weissmann, right, collects a property tax payment from Brock Borman outside of the Treasurer’s Office inside the Boulder County Courthouse on Thursday on Pearl Street in Boulder. County officials announced Thursday that most county buildings, with limited exceptions like the treasurer’s office, would remain closed through May 31. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

Boulder County’s death total linked to the coronavirus on Thursday jumped to 28, five above the previous day’s tally.

That came the same day as Boulder County officials announced that county offices, with just a few exceptions, will remain closed through May 31, even as the state is poised to move from a more restrictive shutdown to what is being billed as a “Safer at Home” strategy. The city of Boulder followed suit a short time later, declaring that most city buildings and facilities would remain shut down until at least June 1.

Also, Boulder County, in coordination with several other metro area counties, is considering extending stay-at-home guidelines to May 8, but will not decide that until Sunday.

The significant jumps in Boulder County’s reported deaths follows an announcement Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that it is changing the way it documents deaths on a statewide basis.

According to the CDPHE release, it was going to start logging data by date of death, as opposed to by the date the information is received by the state.

Starting this week, CDPHE epidemiologists also began to review the cause of death information on death certificates, and to enter COVID-19 deaths into the database if they had not been reported to the state already. That data will also include deaths classified as “probable” for COVID-19. All of this led state officials to expect death totals tied to the coronavirus to jump this week by about 130.

One more factor could cause a bump in publicly released data. Boulder County Public Health spokesperson Chana Goussetis said Thursday her office was notified by CDPHE that the state had been alerted by Quest Diagnostics of a technical error in its reporting over the last couple weeks. That resulted in a large number of reports from Quest being filed with the state Thursday, possibly spelling a spike in the state’s official numbers.

Goussetis said it appeared that only one of Boulder County’s five most recently reported deaths stemmed from the state’s new protocol involving its review of death certificates.

Data released by CDPHE late Thursday, reflecting its reports logged through Wednesday, showed Colorado’s deaths up to 552 — it had been 508 just 24 hours earlier — with 11,262 cases listed as confirmed or probable, 2,237 people hospitalized across 56 counties and 130 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital long term care facilities.

Meanwhile, county officials are in conversation with their counterparts at Broomfield Public Health and Environment, Jefferson County Public Health, Denver Public Health and Environment, and Tri-County Health Department, to develop strategies for proceeding after Gov. Jared Polis’s current statewide stay-at-home order expires at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, and the state shifts to Polis’s  “Safer at Home” initiative.

“While we want to minimize confusion for our residents, the next phase of protecting the community could look different for different areas, based on the number of COVID-19 cases in that specific area,” Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health executive director, said in a statement.

“In some parts of the state COVID-19 cases are not increasing and it makes sense for them to move to the Governor’s Safer at Home phase, but in densely populated counties in the metro area, moving to the next phase too soon could cause additional illness and death, and even greater impacts on our economy.”

The multi-county group is reviewing the possible need to extend the stay-at-home order to May 8 for jurisdictions that are still experiencing high numbers of people sick with COVID-19, while allowing non-essential businesses to begin curbside delivery/pick-up. In a news release, they said a decision will be made by Sunday about what steps will be taken to begin to slowly reopen local businesses.

Boulder County officials announced Thursday that most county buildings will remain closed except in limited exceptions through May 31. The Boulder County Treasurer’s office inside the Boulder County Courthouse is one such exception. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

As for the move to keep most Boulder County offices closed through May 31, officials said it was “in line” with Polis’s “Safer at Home” guidelines for employers. It follows the announcement that Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley district schools will remain closed to in-class learning through the end of the school year.

Boulder County offices will reopen on an intentional, staggered basis beginning June 1.

In announcing the extension of city buildings’ closures — originally slated to run to expire April 30 — City Manager Jane Brautigam said in a statement, “The patience and cooperation of Boulder’s community members and businesses is highly valued. In the weeks to come, we hope to see 14 consecutive days of decline in COVID-19 cases that will allow us to implement a phased approach to restoring city operations.”

Brautigam’s announcement set out four phases for full restoration of city services, not setting a timeline for any of the four, saying only that they would be determined by public health guidelines. They are: Phase 1 – “Limited Travel,” with the goal of maintaining  60-65% social distancing; Phase 2 – “Open-Limited” featuring the reopening of city facilities and services in accordance with public health directives; Phase 3 – “Open-except large gatherings and vulnerable populations;” Phase 4 – “Fully Open,” signaling a return of services to meet what is termed “the new normal.”

Polis announced revised parameters for his COVID-19 stay-at-home order, which took effect at 6 a.m. March 26, and is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, labeling the next phase of social distancing “Safer at Home.” The governor’s office released a list of guidelines for employers to follow to allow maximum telecommuting practices, and also for offices to open at no more than 50% capacity, while providing safety precautions.

“Our approach around building closures is because we’re a large employer, and when the governor talks about ‘Safer at Home’ and wanting 50% of the workforce to be able to telecommute or physically not be in the workplace, the only realistic way for us to achieve that is for us to keep our buildings closed,” Boulder County Administrator Jana Petersen said in an interview Thursday.

“And in addition to that, it gives us a little more time to look at what are the basic factors we want to have in place to make sure that when the public comes to visit, we’re doing everything we can do to prevent the spread of the virus, and make sure those protections are in place” to minimize any level of risk to the public and to employees.

There are exceptions to the county’s closures.

They include limited public access to the Boulder County Justice Center, as well as restricted access to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office headquarters and the Boulder County Treasurer’s office in Boulder at the discretion of those elected officials.

Additional exceptions include county employees who are performing required in-the-field activities such as road and building construction, maintenance, trails and open space management, inspections, and adult and child protection.

In addition to the county’s 28 deaths, local health officials announced Thursday that Boulder County has now seen 431 residents test positive or probable for the coronavirus. To date, 105 people have required hospitalization and 176 have recovered. County epidemiologists have 87 disease investigations ongoing.