COVID-19 update for May 19: Polis allocates $1.6 billion in federal relief


El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health
  • El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC provided signs for businesses to post when they reopen.

Starting May 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began reporting COVID-19 deaths in two ways: the number of people who died with COVID-19, and the number of people whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19 on a death certificate.

CDPHE was reporting 1,257 deaths of people who had COVID-19 when they died, and 968 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 through May 18.

The state has had 22,482 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and 3,955 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

Meanwhile, El Paso County has had 1,376 cases, 235 hospitalizations and 85 deaths, according to El Paso County Public Health.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution May 19 supporting the Senior and Disabled Homestead Exemption, a property tax break for seniors and veterans with disabilities.

Legislative staff had recommended eliminating the exemption due to a projected $3.3 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Read more about the exemption here.

To the frustration of Republicans (including several county commissioners), Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order allocating $1.674 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.

"I am grateful for the support we have received from the federal government, but there will still be hardship ahead," Polis said in a May 18 statement. "This immediate disbursement ensures that no Coloradan has to go without a hospital bed when they need one, that the state can continue to scale up testing and containment, and protect our most vulnerable.

Through an executive order, Polis authorized transfers of:

• $48 million for the current fiscal year, which lasts through June, and $157 million for fiscal year 2020-2021, to the state's Disaster Emergency Fund for medical and public health expenses (including distributions to local public health agencies) due to the COVID-19 crisis;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $7 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Corrections for expenditures to comply with public health measures, such as sanitation and implementation of social distancing measures;
• $1 million for FY 2019-20 and $1 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Human Services for expenditures related to compliance with public health measures veterans living facilities and other long-term care facilities;
• $2 million for FY 2019-20 and $20 million for FY 2020-21 to DHS for increased caseload in benefit programs;
• $37 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Education to respond to increased numbers of at-risk students and other effects of COVID-19;
• $10 million for FY 2020-21 to the Department of Local Affairs for emergency rental and mortgage assistance, as well as direct assistance, to individuals impacted by COVID-19;
• $510 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Education for expenditures related to remote learning, mitigating lost student progress and increasing free instructional hours;
• $450 million for FY 2019-20 to the Colorado Department of Higher Education to promote policies for retaining students without large increases in tuition;
• $28.9 million for FY 2019-20 and $55.9 million for FY 2020-21 for payroll expenses and other expenditures for public safety, health care and human services employees;
• $275 million for FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21 for local governments that didn't receive direct allocations through the coronavirus relief package;
• and $70 million to the state general fund for eligible expenditures related to COVID-19.

Colorado Senate Republicans promptly issued a statement protesting Polis' decision to "unilaterally" allocate the money.

"In a violation of longstanding tradition that gives the people the authority of their tax dollars, the Governor has distributed these funds unilaterally, largely ignoring the needs of Coloradans who reside outside of the Denver metro area," Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. "The Governor's power grab makes it critical that we return to the Capitol now.”

Help Colorado Now, the state's COVID-19 fund, issued a third round of grants totaling $2.7 million to organizations supporting relief efforts. The fund has awarded a total of $11.1 million to 505 nonprofits, businesses and local governments across the state.

Among local awardees:

• Cheyenne Village received $10,000 to provide support for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
• Gateway to Success, which serves domestic violence victims and provides mental health and substance use in El Paso, Fremont, and Pueblo counties, received $25,000.
• Partners in Housing received $25,000 to help families experiencing homelessness.

El Paso County Public Health announced three new outbreaks of COVID-19. They include:

• McDonald’s at 535 Airport Creek Point (three employees tested positive);
• Springs Fabrication at 850 Aeroplaza Drive (two employees tested positive); and
• Cheyenne Mountain Care Center at 835 Tenderfoot Hill Road (two employees tested positive).

The health department also reports that one additional employee of the Walmart on 1575 Space Center Drive, and one new employee of the Discover Goodwill store at 4158 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases for each of those outbreaks to four.

Due to an increase in the availability of supplies, state and local health officials encourage anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (such as cough, fever and shortness of breath) to get tested.

"We are now encouraging you to get tested to see if it is COVID, if you have flu-like symptoms," Polis said at a May 18 news conference. "...Keep in mind that flu is mostly gone from our state."

Local, no-cost testing sites include:

• the UCHealth drive-thru testing site at 175 S. Union Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
• the Peak Vista Community Health Centers drive-thru testing site at 3205 N. Academy Blvd., open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and
• the Pueblo County testing site at 1001 Beulah Ave. (enter through Gate 4 off Mesa Avenue and Gaylord Avenue), open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also has an online symptom tracker where you can report symptoms of COVID-19 to assist the state's ability to track outbreaks.

Up to 20 percent of staff who had been working remotely returned to work in city facilities this week, according to a May 18 statement from the city.

"This staff returns to join many essential employees and public safety workers who have necessarily continued to work on-site through the crisis," the statement says.

At the City Administration Building and City Hall, employees and visitors are required to undergo temperature and symptom checks upon entering, according to the statement. People with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater must return home and can't return for at least 72 hours.

"The City continues to do business during this time, but in-person services will continue to be extremely limited at administrative locations," the statement says. "The public is encouraged to use the GoCOS app, the city website and no-contact drop-box services to conduct business with the City."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct amount of federal relief money allocated to the Colorado Department of Education.

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