Despite President Donald Trump issuing guidelines for lifting stay-at-home orders, Colorado can't reopen until it has the ability to perform mass testing for the coronavirus, state officials said Thursday.
"The governor is very clear that the state will not reopen until we have the capacity to keep everyone safe," said Scott Bookman, the state's coronavirus incident commander.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 374 people have died of the coronavirus statewide as of Thursday. More than 1,690 remain hospitalized, the state department's data show. More than 8,600 cases have been reported.
In El Paso County, the death toll rose from 43 reported Wednesday to 48 Thursday. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, El Paso County led the state in deaths, but has since dropped to fourth.
Local public health officials have been encouraged by a slowing in the daily reported cases and deaths, seeing it as possibly the start of "flattening the curve," but Colorado Gov. Jared Polis warned the state could just be "plateauing" instead of successfully suppressing the virus.
State and health officials have also warned that the data collected by the state's health department may not reflect an accurate picture of coronavirus' spread. The virus' lengthy incubation period coupled with backlogged information have created difficulties in understanding the scope of its impact, the state has said.
The state health department wants to have at least one testing site in each county, though the site might need to be mobile in smaller counties, and more sites will be needed for larger counties, Bookman said.
Though the data suggests Colorado may have entered a "plateau phase" in new cases, the rate of spread needs to actually drop before the stay-at-home order is lifted, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, an epidemiologist with the state health department.
When it is, "we'll have alternative strategies" to squash the spread of the virus that are "a little less than a stay-at-home order," she said.
"There is a variety of strategies we're looking at right now ... to come up with the appropriate menu of options to try to match what we're achieving right now with the stay-at-home order," Herlihy said.
In other news Thursday:
-About 200 Fort Carson soldiers from the 627th Hospital Center will be returning to the Colorado Springs post Thursday night after spending the past three weeks in Washington state building a makeshift hospital for coronavirus patients. Read more here.
-Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will be putting its gates down until further notice. Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde national parks shut down last month in response to COVID-19. Dinosaur National Monument, stretching between Colorado and Utah, closed last weekend. Read more here.
-High school seniors in Colorado would be able to take the SAT college admission test during a school day in the fall semester for free, under an agreement the Colorado Department of Education is pursuing with the College Board, the organization that administers the test. Read more here.
- The Colorado Supreme Court canceled all jury trials in the state until June 1, citing the threat from the novel coronavirus. Read more here.
-Many more Colorado Springs residents will have access to coronavirus testing Friday when a new drive-thru site opens up and the federally sponsored site near Memorial Park starts accepting all symptomatic patients. Read more here.
- Broncos superstar Von Miller tested positive for COVID-19. Read more here.
- Among the guidelines Trump laid out Thursday for reopening the country as it battles the coronavirus pandemic was allowing movie theaters to reopen as soon as May 1. Read more here.