Eighteen Months of COVID in Colorado: A Timeline

Governor Jared Polis during an April 3, 2020, press conference during which he modeled a cloth mask for the first time.
Governor Jared Polis during an April 3, 2020, press conference during which he modeled a cloth mask for the first time.
This weekend represents another benchmark in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: Sunday, September 5, will be exactly eighteen months since the first reported case of the disease in Colorado.

The following timeline, containing links to dozens of articles, provides an overview of the fight against the virus over the past year and a half: uncertainty, shock, anger, resolve, optimism and frustration that an end to this story still hasn't been written.

Continue to retrace the journey so far:

March 5, 2020

Governor Jared Polis announced that an out-of-state visitor to Summit County, a male in his thirties, represented Colorado's first COVID-19 infection. Soon after, a second presumptive-positive case emerged: an elderly female Douglas County resident who had recently returned to Colorado after traveling internationally.

March 13, 2020

"It is just a matter of time before we have our first fatality here in Colorado," Polis said at a press conference — and mere hours later, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed that a woman in her eighties had died from the virus in El Paso County. At the time, the department listed 72 positive cases.

March 25, 2020

With positive diagnoses surpassing 1,000 and the death count at nineteen, Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order intended to slow the disease's spread, a week after all restaurants in the state had been ordered closed to on-premises dining. Paraphrasing the Bible (and Pete Seeger), Polis said: "There is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die. And I want to share with my fellow Coloradans that now is not the time to die. And we will not let it happen on our watch."

April 3, 2020

After stepping behind a microphone at Centennial's Emergency Operations Center, Polis called on everyone in the state to wear a cloth face mask whenever they went out in public and sought to portray the donning of such garb as fun. "It's human nature to go along with a trend," he said. "So let's make it cool."

April 6, 2020

Around the time that Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's response coordinator for COVID-19, was identifying Colorado as an emerging national hot spot for the disease, Denver extended its stay-at-home order to April 30. But Polis declared that the state's version of the edict would expire on April 26, despite some deadly serious data from the CDPHE: 150 deaths, along with 5,172 positive cases and 994 hospitalizations.

April 27, 2020

With the expiration of the state's stay-at-home order, Colorado established a new phase of COVID-19 response known as "Safer at Home." Businesses and offices not previously designated as essential began to reopen. (Denver's stay-at-home order finally concluded on May 8.)

May 27, 2020

Restaurants got the go-ahead to resume in-person dining service on May 27 — a move that ushered in a period of loosened restrictions and an increasing number of variances from state orders in counties with relatively low virus figures. The COVID-19 case count in late May hovered around 24,500, and the virus was listed as the cause in more than 1,000 deaths.

July 16, 2020

Colorado had extended its state-of-emergency declaration on June 19, despite a flattening of Colorado's COVID-19 curve, partly because of rising case counts in Arizona and neighboring states. In a statement about the emergency edict, Polis acknowledged that "data is now starting to show a reversal of some of our gains."

This observation proved prescient. On June 30, Polis ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs across the state, which had been allowed to reopen just a few weeks earlier — and on July 16, he took an action he'd been resisting for weeks by issuing a statewide mandate for all residents of the state at least ten years old to wear masks in public settings. He stressed that facial coverings shouldn't be viewed through a political lens, but many conservative Coloradans reacted angrily anyhow.

July 21, 2020

Fresh CDPHE statistics showed 1,615 deaths from COVID-19, more than 1,700 fatalities of individuals who had the virus in their system at the time of their passing, and 409 new cases. In an attempt to reverse this trend, Polis ordered all alcohol service at restaurants and other night spots to end at 10 p.m. A month later, the time was switched to 11 p.m.

September 1, 2020

The comparatively stable growth of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths wasn't mirrored by a reduction in outbreaks. The CDPHE's September 1 report included 34 new entries, the most in months. Meanwhile, the University of Colorado Boulder sent out an internal memo revealing thirteen positive cases among students discovered after a system to monitor sewage for signs of the virus flagged four dormitories on campus. Two residents of a sorority house associated with CU Boulder tested positive, too.

September 15, 2020

Governor Polis acknowledged that the positivity rate for COVID-19 incidence was on the rise after a long period of stable or declining digits, with most of the increases linked to college students; CU Boulder transitioned to remote learning the next week as a result. Polis warned that if the situation wasn't brought under control quickly, the potential for greater spread in the community as a whole would increase quickly.

September 25, 2020

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a dizzyingly complicated set of guidelines for restaurant operation during cold-weather months. Meanwhile, the CDPHE revealed that case counts hit the highest daily total since July as law enforcement authorities confirmed a spike in pandemic car thefts.

October 12, 2020

The State of Colorado broke through the 1,000-cases-in-a-day barrier for the first time. Deaths in the state specifically from the disease stood at 2,009. Four days later, Denver issued new mask rules requiring face coverings to be worn outside in public settings and limiting gatherings to a maximum of five people.

November 6, 2020

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who had previously blamed the city's worsening numbers on outsiders, authorized a "Home by 10" order that required bars, restaurants and clubs to close by that time.  Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 outbreaks statewide was climbing at a stunning rate, with 214 new sites added for the week ending November 11.

November 17, 2020

Polis acknowledged that COVID-19 stats were spiking in Colorado: The 6,583 cases on November 12 was the largest total since the pandemic's start, and 6.79 times higher than the single-day topper of 969 cases during the first wave of the pandemic. As a result, ten to fifteen Colorado counties were likely to qualify for the Red level on the state's COVID-19 dial system — a status that previously called for adopting a stay-at-home order. However, officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created a new level, Purple, that allowed such municipalities to stave off lockdowns until their hospital capacity was completely overwhelmed.

November 22, 2020

Even before a feared post-Thanksgiving infections surge, numerous municipalities were on the brink of exceeding their intensive-care-unit bed capacity. Among them were Denver, which had just 25 ICU beds remaining; Colorado Springs, down to fourteen extras; and Weld County, with only three unoccupied. Moreover, modeling studies reported that one out of every 41 Coloradans was a carrier of the virus.

December 6, 2020

Colorado's first gentleman, Marlon Reis, was hospitalized because of COVID-19. He would be released days later, around the time Governor Polis outlined the impending rollout of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. By mid-December, first responders and other health-care professionals were getting initial doses — an exceedingly hopeful sign.

January 4, 2021

COVID-19 data in December eased from November's peaks, prompting Governor Polis to move Level Red counties on the state's COVID-19 dial dashboard to Level Orange. Among other things, the decision allowed limited indoor dining at restaurants in places where it had previously been nixed.

January 25, 2021

The number of people vaccinated was rising thanks in part to mass inoculation events such as one held at Coors Field, and COVID-19 stats were getting better, leading to rampant optimism that the pandemic could be largely over by the summer.

February 5, 2021

The good news just kept coming: Restaurants in communities such as Denver were given permission to double capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent. But there was a warning signs: Variants of the disease were starting to make an impact, with cases tripling in a week.

March 19, 2021

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced impending changes to the state's dial dashboard, dubbed Dial 3.0, that resulted in COVID-19 restrictions being eased in many counties within days.

April 9, 2021

Vaccines were becoming more and more available to the general public. Yet a worrisome trend had developed: Residents of some counties — generally those that supported President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election — weren't rushing to get the shots. The disparity raised the prospect of two Colorados: one largely protected from COVID-19, the other not. And Governor Polis acknowledged that a fourth viral wave seemed to be on the horizon.

May 14, 2021

Promising data related to the effectiveness of vaccines inspired the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine that people who'd been immunized could start going into public indoor spaces sans masks. Governor Polis wasted no time cosigning this advice despite indications of ongoing spread, including a new record for outbreaks at K-12 schools in a single week.

June 1, 2021

The CDPHE changed its standard for COVID-19 outbreaks in most settings. While two positive cases within a fourteen-day period would still constitute an outbreak at residential health-care and correctional settings, five would be required everywhere else. After the goalposts were moved, the number of outbreaks tumbled.

June 22, 2021

A new worry: A viral mutation known as the Delta variant began circulating in places such as Mesa County, on Colorado's Western Slope; by the second half of June, Colorado had the second-most cases in the country of the more transmissible and dangerous strain. The Delta variant would quickly supersede the original virus and dominate new infections statewide.

July 20, 2021

With the Delta variant running rampant, state officials advised schools to require masking indoors for unvaccinated individuals over the age of two for the 2021-2022 school year, particularly for those living in higher-risk areas. But the ultimate decision was left to local authorities, and in Mesa County, which at the time had by far the most confirmed Delta variant cases in the state, the local school district determined that face coverings wouldn't be required for anyone, vaccinated or not.

July 27, 2021

The CDC reversed course in the face of the Delta variant upswing, recommending that vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals should start wearing masks again inside public places. But Polis didn't revive the statewide mask mandate, thereby allowing individuals to decide if they should cover their face or not. Mask use began to tick up in many places, but the majority of people decided to skip the precaution.

August 17, 2021

The combination of the Delta variant and lagging vaccinations — promotions such as $1 million drawings and $100 Walmart gift card giveaways saw only modest success — sparked a significant COVID-19 comeback. By mid-August, hospitalizations for the disease were at their highest point since January. Meanwhile, outbreaks at outdoor live events such as a series of String Cheese Incident concerts at Red Rocks in July were followed by cancellations of other gatherings — among them the planned return of Denver GoTopless Day.

September 1, 2021

El Paso County passed Mesa County for the most confirmed Delta variant cases, Delta Plus sublineages began turning up across the state, and the Tri-County Health Department told Douglas and Adams counties that they couldn't opt out of a rule requiring kids to wear masks in class.

As of September 1, 7,446 people had died from COVID-19 in Colorado.

Just another day in a pandemic that was supposed to be over by now but is still going strong.

To read all of our COVID-19 posts from the onset of the crisis through today, go to Westword's coronavirus archive.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts