Answering your questions about COVID-19 in Colorado

How extreme can a stay-at-home order get? When will the COVID-19 peak occur? Can a person get COVID-19 twice? And more

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Still have questions about COVID-19? You’re probably not alone.

Just over a month after authorities detected the new coronavirus in Colorado, information about the disease itself — and how Colorado policies are reacting to it — is still evolving and can be tough to follow.

Here is a look at questions about COVID-19 in Colorado, including answers about how the statewide stay-at-home order is enforced (hint: you don’t need to provide paperwork to police), whether you can leave your house to take care of a friend, when the pandemic will reach its peak in Colorado and more.

How far can a stay-at-home order go?

It’s unclear, but it appears unlikely that the order could get much more extreme.

Under Colorado law, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has broad authority to close theaters, schools and other public places. The agency also can seek isolation or quarantine of individuals when necessary to protect public health, according to a fact sheet from the office of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

The health department’s executive director, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, has not said the state is considering closing more types of businesses or giving people less ability to leave home — nor have other state officials.

The state has been evaluating the success of the order, and “if we need to do something differently around the stay-at-home order, we certainly can,” Ryan told reporters April 6.

But she added: “When we make these decisions in Colorado, the governor takes into account personal freedom and economic consequences and then tries to balance all that in the context of hospital capacity.”

When will the peak occur?

The “peak” is the time when the number of reported COVID-19 cases reaches its highest point.

Data show that Colorado’s social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19 and has delayed the peak to some degree.

For a while in March, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state was doubling every 1 1/2 days. As of early April, cases were doubling roughly every six days, according to state officials.

The peak “could be anywhere from May until later in summer, and we hope to narrow that down,” Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, told reporters on April 6. She noted that predictions depend on the level of social distancing the stay-at-home order achieves — in other words, how well people comply.

Can I take care of a friend?

The statewide stay-at-home order explicitly says Coloradans can leave home to care for family members and pets — and even livestock — in another location. But what about a friend?

The order also allows for taking care of other “vulnerable” people. During the pandemic, state officials have used that term to mean people more likely to become infected with COVID-19 — people older than 60 or those with serious health conditions.

Young people who have disabilities or other needs may need support, too, said Mike Willis, director of the state Emergency Operations Center.

The word “vulnerable” used in this part of the stay-at-home order isn’t limited to older adults, or people with disabilities or serious health conditions, according to Ian Dickson, a spokesman for the state health department.

And in general, the order allows Coloradans to deliver necessary services or supplies, such as food or other groceries, to others.

What about school resources?

Under the order, Coloradans can still get meals or collect materials for online class from schools or related institutions.

What happens when stay-at-home order ends?

The order is set to expire April 26. But even if it is lifted on that date, life won’t fully snap back to normal until there are medical advancements regarding the virus, such as a vaccine, Gov. Jared Polis said at an April 8 news conference.

“The guidance around how we do business and live our lives in a safe way, because the COVID-19 virus will still be with us after April 26, will be issued before April 26,” Polis said.

State officials are considering how restaurants can reopen in some way, whether it’s at the end of April or later, Polis said.

Lifting the order likely doesn’t mean going to a crowded concert at the Pepsi Center or going to a crowded bar and dance club anytime soon, Polis told reporters two days later.

Can I get COVID-19 twice?

Based on public health officials’ understanding of other coronaviruses, those who recover from COVID-19 should have immunity, said Ryan, the health department director.

But the full picture is not yet understood, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patients with MERS-CoV — another coronavirus that causes severe respiratory illness — are unlikely to be re-infected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for COVID-19 patients, the CDC’s website says.

Will I get pulled over by police?

Violating Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year.

But Coloradans likely won’t see law enforcement conduct road checkpoints or pull over drivers or pedestrians to enforce the order. When asked about such measures, Willis said the state encourages voluntary compliance.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, said this in a news release:

“Law enforcement and public health officials are tasked with investigating possible violations of the orders, but if they question you, you do not need to provide any paperwork or documentation that your travel is essential. There are no checkpoints because of COVID-19.”

Is testing free?

In March, there was confusion over the actual cost of a COVID-19 test. “Testing is free,” a March 10 state news release said.

The cost of medical visits related to getting tested was a different story.

Now, because of recent federal legislation, people with any kind of private health insurance should have free access to the COVID-19 test — along with any doctor visits associated with getting the test — with no co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance charged, according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.

Coloradans should check with their health-care provider to be sure, though.

For Coloradans with Medicare, all of the costs are covered if a doctor orders a COVID-19 test, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under Colorado’s Medicaid program — Health First Colorado — and the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+), all the costs of testing and the doctors’ visits associated with getting tested are covered, according to the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.  

Uninsured Coloradans should contact that office at 303-866-2993 to ask about options. To apply for Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus, visit colorado.gov/peak.

Can I get a test?

The state is working toward mass testing capability to more accurately quarantine individuals “instead of quarantining an entire society,” Polis has said.

Such an effort could take weeks or perhaps months to be ready, he said in late March.

In the meantime, the state health department has reminded residents that at-risk individuals — such as hospital patients, health-care workers and some others — are first in line for scarce testing supplies.

“If you have only mild symptoms, self-isolate and don’t wait for a test,” Scott Bookman, incident commander for the department, said in a March 30 news release.

What is the guidance on masks?

Polis at an April 3 news conference urged Coloradans to wear face coverings any time they go out of the house for groceries or other essential reasons.

The governor drew a distinction, though: Medical masks such as “N95s” should be reserved for medical workers, but everyone else is advised to make masks out of fabric in their home, such from old T-shirts, Polis said. A bandana, towel or scarf can also work, a governor's office news release suggested.

Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention similarly says to wear cloth face coverings in crowded public settings such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Here's a quick look at how to make a mask with or without sewing from the CDC.

After a use of the mask, Coloradans should put it in a washing machine or, if a home doesn't have one, wash it in the hot water in the sink, Polis said. He suggested Coloradans wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and wash their faces afterward.

Are cloth masks effective?

Not as much as medical masks, but they likely offer some benefits.

Cloth face coverings can reduce the spread of large respiratory droplets, a governor's office news release said.

Those droplets are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to the CDC.

The CDC has announced that up to one in four people infected with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, a governor's office news release said. Face coverings help lower the risk of transmission by people who may not realize they are sick, according to the release.

They also prevent wearers from touching their faces and may make them aware of how often they have the instinct to touch their nose or mouth, the release said.

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