Colorado unveils new coronavirus testing program for health care workers, first responders

Colorado is unveiling a new program to test health care workers and first responders across the state for the novel coronavirus as public health officials work to protect those on the front lines of the global outbreak.

The state has received 5,000 test kits from the Department of Health and Human Services, with another 2,500 expected next week, Mike Willis, the state’s director of emergency management, said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

Those tests are reserved for health care workers and first responders, who do not have the luxury of working from home during the crisis. The state is setting up test locations — one each in the north, south and on the Western Slope, Willis said. Exact testing location times and places have not been announced.

“The longer we can protect those people, the stronger our health care system is and the longer it can last… when the surge comes,” Willis said.

The state is continuing to develop mass testing capacity for the rest of the community, Willis said.

Gov. Jared Polis’s office also issued an update Thursday to his public order, which required people to stay at home unless they work in essential jobs. The public health order was updated to include exemptions for other critical services, including:

K-12 public and private schools can stay open for the purpose of providing meals, housing, facilitating or providing materials for distance learning, and providing other essential services to students
Postsecondary institutions including private and public colleges and universities can remain open for the purpose of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions — provided that social distancing requirements are observed — such as security, medical and mental health service, housing, food service and critical research
Pastoral services for individuals who are in crisis or in need of end-of-life services
Houses of worship may remain open, but must practice social distancing or use electronic platforms
Professional services, such as legal, title companies, or accounting services, real estate appraisals and transactions

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife also announced Thursday that it will be closing all playgrounds, campgrounds, camping and camping facilities — including yurts and cabins — at Colorado’s state parks as well as camping at State Wildlife Areas until further notice.

Parks, trails, boat ramps, marinas and shorelines will remain open, parks and wildlife officials said in a news release. The agency added that it may close areas that do not allow for social distancing, including picnic areas, fishing piers and other concentrated areas.