Mayor Hancock says Denver’s economy could reopen even if city doesn’t reach coronavirus testing target

While the mayor said testing is key, he also said there are other things to consider.

A negative pressure room inside St. Joseph Hospital, March 10, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A negative pressure room inside St. Joseph Hospital, March 10, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

City health officials say Denver needs to be able to test a lot more people for COVID-19, but hitting the testing target alone won’t dictate when Denver lifts its stay-at-home order, Mayor Michael Hancock said Monday.

Denver’s weekly testing ability for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus strain, sits “in the hundreds,” Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said during a press conference Monday. To keep suppressing the outbreak, he estimates Denver needs to test between 1,500 and 2,000 people per week.

“We are not there yet,” McDonald said. “We are building capacity with our partners throughout the city, particularly in the medical care setting. But we have a ways to go yet before we reach that number.”

Denver is short on tests, just like the rest of the country. Yet epidemiologists say testing and tracking people’s contacts is key to constricting COVID-19.

While Hancock said testing ability is a crucial piece of reopening the city’s economy, his stay-at-home order could be lifted without hitting the target his top health official laid out, he said.

“We’ll have a conversation about that,” Hancock said. “It depends on how robust we’re moving toward that number and if the impediments to that number — if we can get over them and ultimately find ourselves in the place we want to be.”

City officials are planning for “a slow, phased and controlled reopening,” Hancock said. City officials have been working on their own and together with other metro area governments on what a phased reopening of cities might look like — but that they’re also watching the data to see if it makes sense to lift the stay-home order, which is set to end April 30 and can be extended any time.

Hancock will announce later this week an update to and extension of a public health order banning large gatherings through May 11.

“We’re going to start restricting the use of shared equipment such as frisbees and footballs,” he said, saying that officials were concerned with what they were seeing in parks.

On the other hand, as of Wednesday, city golf courses will reopen — with restrictions.

Dave Burdick contributed to this report. 

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