Boulder Leaders Updated on Expected COVID-19 Surge, Economic Fallout

Local health officials expect a surge in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks and briefed Boulder City Council members last night. According to KGNU’s Roz Brown, the Council also heard a report on possible economic fallout to the city.

Listen to the report below:

Experts are warning that across the nation, the first two weeks of April could be grim when it comes to the number of deaths from COVID-19. That has local health experts doing everything they can, while bracing for the worst. Boulder County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Zayach says Colorado’s stay-at-home order will include a delay in diagnosed cases.

“The orders went in place but there’s typically a delay from exposure to onset of symptoms and another delay to the onset of hospital admission and that can be two weeks,” said Zayach. “So we expect to see more people admitted in the next two weeks because it’s a pattern we’ve seen across the United States.”

Zayach says most of the early cases of coronavirus in Boulder County were related to travel, which makes enhanced testing and increased monitoring critical. He said adequate hospital capacity, workforce personnel and necessary equipment also are a concern.

“One person who tests positive can affect three, and those three can affect nine, those nine 27, and so on,” said Zayach. “The reason these orders are so critical is to prevent the spread once it gets into the population.”

An image in the “Community Vitality Update” presentation to Boulder City Council on 3-31-20

As of Tuesday, two Boulder County residents had died from the virus, while another 115 have tested positive. Boulder Community Health CEO Dr. Robert Vissers told city council preliminary data from a small sample this week showed that Colorado’s order to “stay-at-home” seems to be “flattening the curve” which would mean fewer people will need to seek treatment for the disease. He said there’s no shortage of local hospital beds right now. At the same time, he acknowledged that a new study shows the state could run out of hospital beds in mid-April when the virus is expected to peak.

“We are still working under the assumption we will need four to five times the critical care beds we have,” said Vissers. “We are now working on a way we can manage the surge, to possibly move people out of the hospital more quickly and keep people from being admitted, in an effort to manage the surge.”

As far as the economic outlook for Boulder, the city’s executive budget officer Kady Doelling reminded councilmembers that Boulder’s economy was largely spared from the Great Recession starting in 2008, but things look significantly different this time – especially with sales tax revenues accounting for about 50 percent of the city’s budget.

“Boulder’s primary businesses are small retail shops, restaurants and bars, all of which have been forced to close or partially close and we don’t have big box stores like some other communities,” said Doelling. “Moreover, the loss of 30-thousand CU students who’ve left town and 50- to 60- thousand in-commuters who work here will compound the effects that deflate our sales tax revenue.”

Meanwhile, Housing and Human Services Director, Kurt Firnhaber urged renters and landlords to work together to keep those without jobs from being evicted.

“I would urge everyone in the supply chain of housing to do what they can,” said Firnhaber. “If they are a renter, I encourage them to pay their rent or do everything possible to pay their rent. If they’re a property owner or landlord, I would encourage them to work with their tenants to reduce the rents as much as possible based on tenant needs.