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High country will be hardest hit by coronavirus, governor warns

Jesse Paul
The Colorado Sun
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announces a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak in the state on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. There are at least 15 confirmed cases in Colorado.
Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday issued a stark warning to the state and the high country in particular as the new coronavirus rapidly spreads.

“This will get worse before it gets better,” he told reporters, calling the outbreak a “test of our Colorado character” that has no end in sight.

He added: “There are more difficult days ahead.”

The Democrat said mountain communities, where there is evidence that COVID-19, as the coronavirus is formally known, is spreading from person to person, will likely be the hardest hit of any place in the state.

“At this point, we can confirm community spread in the high country of Colorado,” said Polis, who announced a state of emergency on Tuesday. “We are likely on the verge of a tipping point where we will see more community spread in the days and weeks ahead.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Colorado reached 33 on Wednesday, including nine patients who were newly diagnosed in Aspen. That group was linked to a 21-year-old Australian tourist who left the glitzy resort town last week and tested positive for the virus when she returned home.

“A single person can spread this to 10, dozens of individuals,” he said. “And that’s what we appear to have seen in Pitkin County.”

Polis called Aspen a “hotspot” for infection, noting that mountain communities are especially vulnerable because of their lack of resources to fight the virus’ spread. Combined with their high altitude and the fact that they draw so many visitors from the Front Range and out of state, they are particularly risky.

There were four cases in Eagle County on Tuesday and another three linked to Gunnison County. The state’s first case, announced last week, was a California man visiting Summit County to ski.

Polis warned anyone who is over age 60 or who is vulnerable because of a compromised immune system to abstain from traveling to Colorado’s mountains unless it’s absolutely necessary, a significant step given the state is at the height of the ski season and expecting a wave of spring break travelers in the coming days.

The governor predicted the state’s tourism and energy industries will be hardest hit by the economic impacts of the virus.

Polis said he would be issuing guidance to retirement and assisted living homes on Thursday urging them to limit and screen visitors to prevent an outbreak among people who live there. The state will also be telling schools to close for at least 72 hours if a student or faculty member tests positive for the virus.


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