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Colorado’s Governor says coronavirus impacting ski, mountain areas disproportionately

Cat tracks line Little Nell in the early morning on Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via AP)

DENVER (AP) — Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Colorado’s ski resort and mountain areas, where community spread of the virus has been confirmed.

Polis recommended during a news conference that people over 60 years old don’t travel to those areas because of the limited capacity of their health care facilities and the high altitude.

The number of people in Colorado who have tested positive for the virus has risen to at least 33, including several in Pitkin County who had been in contact with an Australian visitor to Aspen who tested positive after returning home.

Polis said officials have confirmed community spread — people who did not travel or have known contact with other infected people — in the high country of Colorado, but not yet in the Denver metro area. “We are acting and treating it as though it’s already occurring,” he said.

“There are more difficult days ahead,” Polis said, telling the public to expect more cases. Again he urged people to maintain “social distancing” in public places of at least 6 feet (1.8 meters), wash hands frequently and stay home if sick.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared coronavirus a pandemic. It says people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while severe cases may last three to six weeks.

Polis said his administration is preparing restrictions on visits to senior facilities, certain veterans’ care centers and state-run medical facilities.

Earlier Wednesday, the state ordered employers in certain industries to provide up to four days of paid sick leave for workers with flu-like symptoms being tested for the virus. The Department of Labor and Employment rules were issued under a state of emergency declared by Polis on Tuesday.

Polis says he wants workers in key industries to stay home if they get sick, rather than expose others because they’re worried about losing their jobs.

Wednesday’s order, in effect for at least 30 days, affects the leisure and hospitality industries, food services, child care, education, nursing home and community living, as well as home health firms working with the at-risk elderly and the disabled. The sick leave requirement isn’t a substitute for sick leave already provided by an employer.

The department said it is studying expanding unemployment insurance eligibility and other options to help those who test positive and cannot report to work. Currently, unemployment insurance benefits cover those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Also Wednesday, the University of Colorado at Boulder said it is suspending all in-person classes for the rest of the semester amid fears the coronavirus could spread among the school’s 35,000 students.

Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff that professors will begin teaching online Monday. Much of the campus, including residence and dining halls, libraries, rec centers, the health center and student union, is expected to remain open.

“We will get through this together. … The risk of not acting outweighs the inconvenience of these temporary measures,” DiStefano said.

Other schools are turning to online courses, including Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Colorado College.

In the Denver metro area, a state-run drive-thru testing facility opened Wednesday, accepting only people with a doctor’s order. A Denver public elementary school closed for cleaning after a parent of two students tested positive. Buckley Air Force Base in suburban Denver also closed a child care center after a parent tested positive.

The NCAA said fans won’t be allowed into its upcoming hockey west regional in Loveland and women’s gymnastics regional at the University of Denver.

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