Denver Mayor Michael Hancock provided an update on the city’s COVID-19 response efforts on Monday, exactly three weeks since Denver’s stay-at-home order was first issued.
Included in his announcement was news that an emergency homeless shelter for up to 300 women will open later this week at the Denver Coliseum. The auxiliary shelter, to be launched with the help of Catholic Charities of Denver, the Delores Project and the Gathering Place, comes roughly a week after the city opened a shelter for men at the National Western Center, which Hancock said served more than 700 people.
“We really see this as a harm-reduction effort,” Britta Fisher, the city’s chief housing officer, said during the press conference. The new shelters are intended to add more space for social distancing, which is currently impossible in the existing homeless facilities, although many homeless advocates oppose the plans.
As of April 7, the city has spent nearly $11 million on its emergency response, according to city documents obtained by Colorado Politics. Nearly $5 million of those dollars have been used for supplemental and auxiliary shelter costs and respite rooms.
Across the city, Hancock said, there are more than 1,300 COVID-19 cases. At least 66 Denverites have lost their lives to the virus.
About 2,600 verbal contact warnings have been made with residents who are not following the stay-at-home order. At least 19 citations have been issued to non-essential businesses who have failed to close as required by the order, which has been extended until April 30.
Hancock said that residents should not expect the stay-at-home order to be lifted any earlier than the end of the month. However, he said, local leaders have begun looking at ways to “ease the city out of this challenge.”
Another glimmer of hope, he said, is that Denver hospitals have 60% capacity compared with other metro area hospitals that only have 35% capacity. Denver hospitals also have 70% ventilator capacity compared with other metro area hospitals that have 50%.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, also offered good news:
“What I’m very excited to share is that for the last three weeks, since the last week of March, we’ve seen just a leveling off in the number of cases,” he said.
Although there was a spike in cases on April 9, he said the city is looking at a three-day average. McDonald attributed the city’s preliminary success to its "aggressive" social distancing efforts.
“When I look at the curves of other municipalities … to be this far into it, this many weeks into battling this virus and this to be leveling off like it is, I’m very excited and very hopeful about that.”
Nevertheless, Hancock and McDonald both said it's still too soon to celebrate.
"This is not the time for us to let up, folks. This is the time for us to lean in and to put the pedal to the metal," Hancock said. "This is almost like a marathon. By no means are we done."
Hancock also addressed preliminary statewide and Denver-centric data that shows black residents are being hardest hit by the coronavirus.
"We're taking particular steps to protect those residents that live ... where we're seeing a disproportionate number of cases coming forward," he said.
As part of that effort, he's asked the city's health department to perform a detailed analysis of the disparity of COVID-19 cases in certain neighborhoods.
Hancock also said a medical clinic and testing center was recently opened in Denver's Montbello neighborhood, which is experiencing a higher COVID-19 infection rate. He also announced that another health care facility, to be called the Peña Medical Clinic, will soon open on the north side of Denver to conduct additional testing for higher-risk residents.
Meanwhile, the city is developing a comprehensive strategy to address the health inequities among people of color, McDonald said.
"Now that the data's coming in, we need to take a look at why those disparities are existing," he said. "Once we know why that's occurring, then we can be more targeted in our strategies. And that's a great deal of the work that we're going to be doing moving forward in the upcoming week."