Boulder Furloughs 700+ Employees, Reviews Open Space Restrictions

Hours before the Boulder City Council held its weekly virtual meeting last night, the city announced 700 employees would be furloughed at the end of the week due to economic fallout from COVID-19. KGNU’s Roz Brown says councilmembers soberly absorbed that information before an update from local health officials about the impacts of coronavirus.

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Friday will be the last day for 737 City of Boulder employees, 175 regular workers and 562 seasonal temporary employees – victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a press release, the city said since stay-at-home orders took effect, preliminary loss of revenues are estimated to be $28 million, about 10% of annual revenues. It means three out of every eight city employees will be sent home on Friday – a 38% cut in staff. Capital improvement projects also will be delayed or canceled and additional layoffs have not been ruled out.

With that grave news, council moved on to an update from local health officials about the status of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the community. Boulder County Public Health Director Jeff Zayach said the death toll from COVID-19 in Boulder County, as of Tuesday, was 15, and added that 290 people have tested positive.

“We know we have more people in the community who are positive that have not been tested,” said Zayach. “So we would expect to see more cases and then we would want to do more quarantine to hold down contact so they don’t end up in the hospital.”

Governor Jared Polis extended Colorado’s stay-at-home order through the end of April, and he emphasized how important social-distancing will be in the next two weeks.

“This is another plug to say to people please follow those orders – stay at home – that’s going to make a big difference – we want those case counts to stay down and sustain down for the next fourteen days,” said Zayach.

Even though new infections of COVID-19 have not stabilized, the number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week. Dr. Robert Vissers leads Boulder Community Hospital and said two-hours tests are starting to arrive at BCH.

“We only received 30 test kits and because we have a limited supply we’re using them for where we need an immediate answer – a woman coming in in labor or a critically ill patient, but we’re hoping to get a larger shipment of those tests later this week,” said Vissers.

Vissers also expressed concern that some people who may need immediate health care attention could be avoiding the hospital over fears about COVID-19, but emphasized that the hospital is ready to care for them.

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in those coming in who are experiencing chest pain,” said Vissers. “We know that heart disease hasn’t suddenly diminished, so while we expect traumatic injuries to decrease we would expect these other medical emergencies to continue. So, my other message is that the hospital is an incredibly safe place – every person is screened daily and sent home if they show the slightest symptoms tested before they’re allowed to return.”

Both Vissers and Zayach encouraged people to wear masks – not just when they enter stores to shop but any time they’re outdoors – especially to walk or hike. Hikers have been practicing social distancing and wearing masks more this week than last, according to Open Space and Mountain Parks director Dan Burke but he added that non-compliance is still as high as 30 percent at busier sites.

“In the past week there’s been a noticeable shift and we still receive concerns about social-distancing, but we’ve also heard from people about the benefits of open space and keeping trails open,” said Burke.

Burke added that visitation levels remained higher than normal in the past week at 11 open space sites where automatic trail counters have been installed. He says that may mean implementing weekend or rolling closures at targeted locations.

“What we’re thinking of doing is partnering with Boulder County for a temporary closure on weekends on Flagstaff Road, to begin at the Gregory Canyon trailhead,” said Burke.

Burke said his department is still receiving complaints about street parking congestion near popular access points, but it’s down from previous weeks.

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