DENVER, CO - MARCH 10: Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency as Colorado gears up to fight the growing outbreak in this country of the new coronavirus that already has caused havoc around the globe at State Capitol building in Denver, Colorado. March 10, 2020. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
DENVER (AP) — Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency Tuesday in Colorado that he says will allow him to take measures to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and limit economic disruptions.
The action came as the number of cases in Colorado reached at least 15.
Polis said he directed the state to pursue financial measures to help employees in the health, food and nursing home industries, as well as state workers, to stay home if they get sick — rather than expose others to the virus because they’re worried about losing their jobs.
In addition, Polis said he’s seeking more testing capacity to rapidly identify and isolate cases of the virus. Private diagnostics firm LabCorp is now performing coronavirus tests that will complement state and federal testing, he said.
The state is also opening a drive-through testing clinic in east Denver on Wednesday, and more locations are coming. Users need a doctor’s order, Polis said.
The emergency declaration “does not mean Colorado isn’t open for business. We are,” Polis said.
He said he’s spoken with Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to stress the need for “exponentially” greater testing in Colorado.
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 says people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while severe cases may last three to six weeks.
The governor directed the state Department of Labor and Employment to explore paid sick leave, unemployment insurance or wage replacement for those in the affected industries. He also asked the business community to voluntarily offer sick leave to limit the spread of the virus and avoid significant economic disruptions.
State employees in quarantine or isolation can work from home and, if ill, use paid sick leave, Polis said.
He also directed the Department of Revenue to allow drivers 65 and older — part of populations most at risk — to renew their licenses online rather than in person at Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. Seniors usually must renew their licenses in person to have their eyesight tested.
Officials say a person in suburban Douglas County visited a DMV office last week before testing positive. The county says the risk of infection for clients at the office and for workers there is low.
Guidance for schools and nursing homes is forthcoming, Polis said.
On Monday, Polis said Colorado will require health insurers it regulates to fully cover testing, under certain conditions, for the coronavirus.