Jared Polis

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis

Gov. Jared Polis, in his fourth press conference of the week over the novel coronavirus outbreak, announced the number of cases is up to 72, with eight people hospitalized and three in critical condition. "It's only a matter of time before we have our first fatality," Polis said.

By late Friday afternoon, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado had hit 77 and the state had its first fatality, a woman in her 80s from El Paso County.

The governor urged against gatherings of more than 250 people, unless those venues can ensure people can be spaced six feet apart.

"As I said Wednesday, this will get worse before it gets better," Polis said. The cases include four due to community spread in the high country as well as in the Denver metropolitan area.

The good news, however, is that 90% of the cases tested have been negative. But there are likely thousands of cases in Colorado awaiting testing, he added. And it's putting a strain on health care resources.

Community spread is when a case has no known origin, either from travel or contact with another person who tests positive.

Polis was joined by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, as well as state and Denver public health officials.

Polis announced health insurers would cover testing of the virus for free on Monday, when the state had just two presumed positive cases of COVID-19. But since then, the number of positive cases have grown, with 49 as of Thursday.

He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, allowing him to activate the National Guard, suspend or adjust rules related to paid leave for both the private and for state employees, and allowing him to tap $4 million from a disaster emergency fund. He also announced the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would open up testing centers, including a drive-through that opened on Wednesday in east Denver but has since been overwhelmed with the number of people who seek testing.

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