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Colorado lawmakers receive update on state's COVID-19 response from health experts

Posted at 6:59 PM, Aug 11, 2020

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers listened to a presentation Tuesday about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislative executive committee, which is comprised of members of both the House and the Senate, received presentations from the Department of Public Safety, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Office of State Planning and Budget among other groups.

On the plus side, health experts testified that Colorado is doing better than other states in terms of the positivity rate.

Colorado is 40th in the nation for positivity rates and has a R0 number of .67 currently. R0 is the average number of people one infected person spreads COVID-19 to. Anything below 1 means that the spread of the disease is on the decline.

However, Jill Ryan from CDPHE warned that the number is rising again, and the state expects it to go up even more as schools reopen in the fall.

The state’s three-day average positivity rate is at 2.99 percent. Health officials would like to keep that number below 5 percent. Overall, about 4.7 percent of the population has become infected with the disease. Turn-around times for state labs on COVID-19 tests is now around four days.

On the bad side, Colorado is now seventh in the nation for business closures, and 20 percent of adults in the state say they have low confidence that they will be able to pay their rent or mortgage on time next month.

“I’m really glad we had this meeting today. Obviously there’s a lot that has happened since we first went out of session,” House Speaker Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, said.

State officials also detailed the federal help Colorado has received throughout the pandemic. To date, Colorado has gotten $20 billion in federal relief, more than half of which has been spent on the Paycheck Protection Program for people facing unemployment.

About $4.4 billion has been spent on bolstering the state’s economy and more than $1 billion has been spend on education institutions.

“I think there’s a lot of good progress that Colorado is making, and I appreciate the innovation that Colorado is bringing to this pandemic. Obviously, a lot of us are really paying attention to what’s going on in schools,” Rep. Becker said.

However, several times throughout the hearing Democrats expressed concerns over whether the state could be forced to repay the $20 billion from the federal government.

“There’s always a lot of question and concern about the Trump administration and the Treasury Department. They put money out there, but they definitely have sent signals that if local governments or if recipients aren’t spending the money the way that they think it should be spent then they can claw it back and that’s concerning for us,” Rep. Becker said.

At the same time, with all of the financial uncertainty right now, she said the state really needs Congress to come together to pass the next round of relief spending.

Lawmakers also received an update on the executive orders the Governor has signed in the wake of the pandemic. So far, there have been 155 COVID-19 related orders put into place ranging from the statewide mask mandate, marriage licenses, notary services, small business relief and more.

Republicans, meanwhile, focused on the amount of power the governor has during declared disasters.

Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, described the COVID-19 pandemic more like World War II rather than a fire or tornado in terms of how long emergency declarations are lasting and said he wants to know where the governor’s authority begins and ends.

“Citizens legislators are certainly asking questions of what marks or what measures do we need to achieve in order for this unusual concentration of power and declared disaster emergency to come to an end,” Sen. Holbert said.

Currently, 44 counties in Colorado have some sort of variance to the executive orders but 14 are working through mitigation plans since their COVID-19 numbers were increasing. Under the mitigation plan, counties need to show what they are doing to lower the numbers and they need to see progress in stopping the spread in order to keep their variance.

With many school semesters getting ready to begin, Sen. Holbert also wants to know what the executive orders mean for school boards and more.

“The governor doesn’t have authority over K through 12 in normal times. We have an independently elected state board of education and 178 local elected school board that our constitution says have control,” he said. “I think there are 178 school boards out there that are asking or wondering when the disaster emergency will end and when they will truly have control over their school districts.”

For now, lawmakers will continue to receive updates on the state’s COVID-19 response and say they are keeping a close eye on Colorado’s progress.

“It’s a lot of unknowns but I think it’s important that we keep asking questions and have that dialogue,” Rep. Becker said.