A global pandemic hit Broomfield on March 20, when the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported.
As of July 23, city and county public health officials have reported 373 positive cases, 32 deaths and 6,634 tests.
The pandemic upturned lives, cratered portions of the economy and job market, turned science into a political football and, maybe most importantly, left segments of the population struggling with mental and physical health.
For some unhoused families in Broomfield, the pandemic also led to a roof over their head, which made the shelter-in-place order possible.
Broomfield nonprofits, including Broomfield FISH, The Refuge, and Broomfield Community Foundation, helped orchestrate a hotel voucher program in response to COVID-19. Between donations, and Community Development Block Grant funds from the City and County of Broomfield, the groups invested about $55,000 in the voucher program.
The program helped 38 people in the last two weeks of March through the end of April, Broomfield FISH Housing Advocate Manager Sharon Tessier said, and 21 people in May. At least three of those helped are in housing now, Tessier said. Four are working toward housing stability and about five left the Broomfield area and found jobs in other counties.
Seneyia Allen and her husband Cervonte Allen were were already staying at TownePlace Suites and experiencing financial hardships, when the staff there introduced them to Tessier. The couple had been having issues with the federal stimulus checks and unemployment, she said, and were low on food. Tessier, also a city council member, knew about the voucher program and helped secure safe housing for the couple for April and May.
“She was phenomenal,” Seneyia Allen said. “We needed the help more than anything.”
They also went to FISH every couple of weeks to pick up food, which they were able to cook in the hotel room’s kitchenette. At this point they are building credit, paying bills and managing funds from their stimulus checks, Cervonte Allen said, and looking into apartments.
Allen, who was born and raised in Kenya, came to America 11 years ago to join family here. In September she and her husband, born and raised in Kansas, moved to Broomfield for their jobs. The two were working, him at Vestas and her doing data input with a company in Westminster, until January or February when they experienced layoffs.
Cervonte said they were living at a Springhill Suites when COVID-19 hit and they lost their jobs. The couple moved around from hotel to hotel and eventually found their way to TownePlace Suites where they got to know everyone, from the manager to the cleaning staff, by name.
“I can’t imagine getting through this COVID situation without them,” she said about the hotel staff. “They’ve been very patient, kind and very understanding. They really worked with us.”
The couple is also taking care of their physical, emotional and mental health and caring for their pit bull terrier and border collie mix Samson, Seneyia’s emotional support dog. She hopes that, thanks to COVID, people are more comfortable talking about personal struggles and mental illness.
Since she’s worked ever since she came to the U.S., Allen said she is taking some time to explore the area a bit by taking long walks and hikes with Samson. Seneyia said she and her husband are very spiritual and that prayers are getting them through this trying time.
“God is our anchor,” she said. “We’ve never seen God’s work so visible like we do right now. We see little miracles on a daily basis, but it’s vibrant this time.”
She is sharing the blessings she’s received, Allen said, by sending money to grandparents in Africa and to an out-of-state cousin who fell on hard times.
North Metro Fire Rescue District was fortunate to have only one employee test positive for COVID-19, EMS Coordinator/Captain Mark Daugherty said.
“This employee did not have any public/patient contact during this time period,” he said.
North Metro Fire presented a number of preventative and protective measures early on, he said, starting in early March. Because of the “ever-evolving” understanding of the virus, the district has remained flexible and adaptable, as new recommendations have been published. That includes adjusting emergency medical policy and protocol to ensure paramedics and EMTs are providing up-to-date medical care.
The personal protective equipment worn by the firefighters on every call was increased to include the minimum of goggles, N95 masks, protective gowns and Nitrile gloves.
If a patient needs invasive airway management, a more protective full-face mask and respirator are worn, Daugherty said, and most importantly, a surgical mask is placed immediately upon contact with all patients no matter the type of medical or trauma call. Firefighters have also been practicing social distancing and wearing masks while in public and within the fire stations.
“Because the firefighters live in close quarters at work and then return home to their families, social distancing and mask wearing is incredibly important,” he said.
Call volume for medical emergencies declined by nearly 10% from April through the end of May as compared to the same time in 2019, Daugherty said. This was a trend seen nationwide by EMS agencies and emergency departments.
“This decrease was concerning, as it indicated fewer citizens were calling 911 or going to the hospital when experiencing serious symptoms like chest pain, severe shortness of breath and stroke-like symptoms,” Daugherty said.
To help residents feel comfortable, and safe, calling 911, North Metro Fire used social media to bring attention to the precautions being taken by firefighters and by the hospitals. In recent weeks, call volume has returned to more normal levels compared to early spring, he said in late July.
EMS Supervisor Randy Delaney, who has been a paramedic for 25 years and with North Metro Fire for nearly 13 years, said more and more training, part of his duties, is being handled remotely instead of at the various stations. COVID-specific training has been added to education, and since it’s a novel virus, that information is evolving.
Even to an auto accident, paramedics are wearing full protective gear, he said. The lowest rated mask they have in their arsenal is the N95, but what they use most is a half mask that uses different filters that plug into the sides, so it could be used as an N95 or N100. Another benefit is the masks are made to be cleanable and reusable. The department has about 130 to 135 personnel, Delaney said, but is starting to put out job offers for new hires.
“We just were able to outfit everybody in the last 30 to 45 days,” he said. “Items like that are incredibly hard to come by right now.”
Delaney said his family is in a unique position because his wife is a respiratory therapist, who wears even more protective equipment because of the aerosolized procedures performed at the hospital where she works. Where Delaney can wash clothes at the fire station, his wife changes at home in the garage before coming in the house.
His wife, a breast cancer survivor, has a tendency to be more immunosuppressed than the average person, Delaney said, and wears extra layers of PPE to protect herself.
Psychologically, this pandemic has definitely taken its toll on them both.
One example is when he responded to a home where the father was very sick with all the COVID symptoms — cough, weakness and a high fever. He ended up being taken to the same hospital where another family member was admitted. Everyone else in the family was also positive, Delaney said, and no one was able to be with him when the father died.
“It was one of those eye-opening times,” Delaney said. “It shows you just how exactly sick people can be from this virus.”
He attributes the department’s health record to direction from fire chiefs who had the foresight to put measures “above and beyond” what some neighboring departments were establishing. Some people looked at medics as thought COVID “can’t be that big of a deal” and questioned the decision, but as things started to unfold, the “appreciation was certainly there” for those measures.
It’s not easy for people to accept change when its forced upon them, he said, and part of the issue initially was that you can’t see this virus, which made it harder to embrace.
“It’s not until people get sick that people really appreciate just how deadly this virus can be,” Delaney said.
There is a high survivability rate, and not everyone who gets it is going to show symptoms, but some people truly get sick and “can die almost in front of your eyes.” Protection is in place because they just assume someone has the virus, whether they’re symptomatic or not, “until someone proves to us that they’re not.”
District employees will wear the protective gear into the foreseeable future, he said.
One concern on the horizon for the team is what this virus will look like in the fall, coupled with the flu season.
Fonda Buckles, Broomfield Senior Services manager, said it was important to keep up the nutrition program offered to seniors during the shelter-in-place and the subsequent orders that allowed people more freedom, but still stressed caution for the elder population.
Typically Broomfield Meals on Wheel serves between 100 and 135 meals a day, she said. A hot meal is prepared in the kitchen, and frozen meals are sent to those unable to cook on the weekend. Lakeshore Cafe, where seniors could come for lunch and socializing, remains shut down during COVID times.
When it first hit, the group immediately began working with Broomfield FISH, which supplied boxes of non-perishable food for seniors. Meals on Wheels volunteer drivers would then pick up the boxes and deliver the items along with the hot meal. Staff also met needs for things such as hand sanitizer. When FISH didn’t have an item, staff would make a trip to the store to buy it.
“Toilet paper was a big one,” Buckles said. “I think I was at the store every morning buying rolls of toilet paper.”
The third week in July was spent moving equipment into the newly renovated kitchen. A full reconstruction of the Broomfield Community Center began in September 2018. The 96,088 square-foot project is projected to cost about $8 million, according to the city.
“When the new center opens, we’re hoping we’ll be able to slowly transition people into the Lakeshore Cafe,” Buckles said. “That is the most critical program.”
A hot meal is important, she said, but Lakeshore means so much more to visitors. When the cafe does open, they are looking at two separate meals a day to be able to space out residents. Even that will be a challenge for folks — some of whom live alone and come to visit — who have hearing impairments.
In June, senior services staff made 738 reassurance calls, which equated to about 150 residents they would call each week to visit and check-in. The conversations were more than “how are you doing?” Buckles said, and focused on developing friendships. Staff would ask questions about family visits and what was going on in their lives.
“When the staff are talking, you can hear the laughter as those conversations build,” Buckles said. “Staff is sharing, residents are sharing. It truly morphs into a conversation because you get to know that person.”
She wants to continue that until seniors are back in the building.
In addition to caregiver respite, Senior Services Program Coordinator Lane Claxton receives 150 to 200 calls a month from older adults and families needing help navigating resources. Senior Services was recently awarded a grant for “information assistance” so that when people call in, staff can dig below the surface an of initial reason for the call and get to the core of a family or individual’s needs.
As a result, Claxton spends time with a caller and advocates for them making sure they get to the right person or agency. Something like helping a senior buy hearing aids, which can cost $4,500, might take five funding sources and requires time and help to achieve.
“Everyone cares so much,” she said about the staff, “and it’s so hard when you have to say no. It’s easier to find a solution.”
Some calls from seniors led to the evolution of Broomfield Pals — a program that matches volunteers to seniors who need someone to visit with, need yard work done or chores around the house.
Easy Ride and Meals on Wheels “didn’t miss a beat” and never shut down during the crisis, Buckles said, although the transportation model changed.
Easy Ride trip counts are down, Buckles said, even though the buses offer every trip type, including medical, nutritional and services such as the hair salon. Residents still need to make an appointment, she said, but it’s a free service for people 60 and older. Some clients are still reluctant to use transportation for fear of catching the virus, she said.
Because of COVID, Denver Regional Council of Governments awarded funding to support the transportation program, which allowed senior services to be a little more flexible with trip types, Buckles said. Instead of people calling to request a trip to the store, staff has been able to deliver certain items to their home. Senior services also started a prescription pick-up in May in response to COVID. Waivers were created for clients to sign and then prescription were prepaid and picked up. Seniors would schedule an appointment for drop-off.
Senior Services is made up of a full-time resource coordinator, a full-time active adult coordinator, full-time volunteer coordinator, full-time kitchen supervisor, two full-time kitchen staff and two part-time kitchen staff members. Three full-time people work in transportation, which includes a supervisor and eight temporary drivers.
The Easy Ride medical appointments are now available during the workweek from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. including trips outside of Broomfield. Clients have to be out of their appointments by 4:15 p.m. While transportation used to only go to the outskirt hospitals, such as St Anthony North Complex, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it’s now five days a week during COVID.
Senior Services is also working with Cultivate, a Boulder-based nonprofit, that provides several services, including grocery delivery. Once COVID is over the program is not going away, Buckles said, and could include an existing model (one that can’t happen now because of the virus) where volunteers put away groceries inside the home.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Buckles said. “We couldn’t do this without partner and community members. The success is because of volunteers.”