Denver Mayor Hancock held a press conference on Wednesday morning to provide an update on the city’s coronavirus response efforts.
The meeting marked the third month since Hancock issued stay-at-home orders on March 23, when the city and county's confirmed coronavirus cases accounted for the highest of any county in the state.
Hancock compared Denver's progress in combatting COVID-19 to watching a Broncos football game.
"If we were at a Broncos game, we would still be in the first quarter," he said. "COVID-19 may have pinned us up against the 1-yard line back in March, but it's taken everyone while we were on that 1-yard line to get us at least moving forward to where we now sit on the 20-yard line today."
Denver's COVID-19 positivity rate is "stabilizing and staying low" at a level of 3%, the mayor reported, and "hospitalizations continue to trend downward."
Another major factor in controlling the virus, he said, is the fact that the city is continuing to ramp up its testing and contact tracing efforts. For the last two weeks, Denver has conducted a daily average of 1,133 tests, which Hancock said is necessary for a population of its size.
"I can't underscore enough how critical it is that we keep meeting this mark," he said, before encouraging the community to get tested for free at the Pepsi Center, the largest COVID-19 testing site in the state.
The city is only on the 20-yard line, he said, “because we’re all seeing what’s happening in other states, especially neighboring states to Colorado, with dramatic rises in their positivity or positive counts because they didn’t take the steps that our city and our state took at the start of this pandemic.”
That’s why the face mask requirement will be here to stay for the “foreseeable future,” he said.
Hancock stressed that it was not a political move, but "good common sense."
Bob McDonald, the city’s public health director, said Denver has seen “a little bit of an uptick” in the last week, which could “perhaps” be a result of less physical distancing as more restaurants and businesses continue to reopen.
Nevertheless, McDonald said, he’s not seeing anything out of the "normal ebb and flow” of cases that happen over time.
“I think really what we need to look at is what happens over the next seven days,” he said. “Does it continue to rise or does it level off?”
There have been at least 6,652 cases of COVID-19 and 305 related deaths in Denver, according to the latest data from Denver Public Health.
As Hancock and McDonald spoke to press in a meeting room inside the Denver City and County Building, the small gaggle of reporters struggled to hear them as protesters just outside the room's doors — many affiliated with Denver Homeless Out Loud — demanded that the city end homeless encampment cleanups. The group had shared on social media the day before that a "sweep" would be occurring near Morey Middle School, drawing attention from the public and city officials.
Homeless activists have based their argument on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that people living in encampments should remain where they are during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent exposure and spread of the virus. The CDC also recommends that local and state governments provide sanitation and supportive services to encampments and continue to assist people with accessing health care services, shelter, and housing if it is available.
Hancock appeared mostly unfazed, but he had quietly ordered staff to scramble to organize a meeting with protest organizers, who also included members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
When the mayor exited the press conference and headed to his office, he slowly waded through the angry crowd, who shouted, "Shame on you." The protesters had attempted to disrupt the press conference but were prevented by security and staff from entering the room.
Hancock then held a nearly hour-long meeting with four organizers, along with members of his cabinet and a couple of council members, to listen to homeless advocates' demands, which included ending the encampment cleanups and providing a safe space for the unhoused to camp.
"We have answers," he told Colorado Politics in a phone interview after the meeting. "I could be defensive and throw all that out there, but I chose not to do that. I wanted to listen, and I wanted to try and ... listen for actionable items that we could act on later."
During the press conference, Hancock told Denverite that the city was considering a sanctioned camp for people experiencing homelessness.
“We’re looking at all the options right now,” he said.
Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who attended the meeting and is a close ally of both Denver Homeless Out Loud and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said his efforts are a little too late.
"Mayor Hancock has had 9 years to implement solutions and he has not only failed, he has continued to tout success knowing the severity of the issues has been exacerbated by his failed leadership," she told Colorado Politics in a text message. "He is correct that the data exists to build solutions, he is just choosing not to use it and build effective solutions."