Tri-County Health officials put on their protective gear before interacting with those in line to get tested for COVID-19, March 11, 2020 at the CDPHE Laboratory Services Division. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado
Jeanna Brewer, an RN at the Medical Center of Aurora, was the first to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 16, 2020, at the hospital. The Medical Center of Aurora received 375 vaccines in the first delivery.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

The days and weeks before the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Colorado there was much speculation about how bad a pandemic could really be here. How would schools respond? How would local health departments communicate with the public about case numbers? Would things be so dire that they’d even have to?

By mid-March novel coronavirus cases were steadily on the rise, people were ordered to stay at home and masking was recommended. In a panic people bought up nearly every sheet of toilet paper in the metro region, some grocery items were hard to come by, restaurants and small businesses were closed or severely limited in how they could serve the public.

As of March 11, the Tri-County region has counted 123,001 positive COVID-19 cases, 7,061 hospitalizations due to the virus and 1,568 deaths, according to local health department data. Those numbers still continue to grow but at a much lower rate than they did during the peaks of the pandemic.

A year after the first cases of the virus three different vaccines — made by Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — are available and health care workers are working to make sure as many people as possible receive them. Now, businesses are slowly letting more people into their establishments and local and state governments are reporting that while the state has certainly felt economic hardship over the course of the last year it’s not as bad as once expected.

On the one year anniversary of the pandemic arriving in Colorado, Sentinel staff recounts a year of events, how the pandemic is still at the forefront of so many aspects of our lives and where experts think we go from here.

— KARA MASON, Managing Editor

STORY: Tri-County Health’s Dr. John Douglas on being on the forefront of a public health crisis, backlash and reopening

“We thought that was a good move,” Douglas said of Polis’ March 16, 2020 announcement. “And I would say that’s when things began to become a blur.”

STORY: Doctors say lasting effects of COVID-19 a ‘silent epidemic’

 “Most recently in the literature, there’s an acronym for chronic COVID syndrome, or CCS, which means that we are slowly starting to understand that this entity exists, that these patients are vulnerable and suffering, and it is hard to heal those long term symptoms.”

STORY: Student mental health: A year of increased need, creative solutions and recognizing warning signs

“This pandemic has both our students and staff in a situation where the distress and stress of the pandemic is lasting longer than what our bodies were really meant to handle,” said Jennifer Rice, an APS school social worker who works with special needs students ages 17-21.

STORY: ‘We know our pain is questioned’: Creating equitable health care in a pandemic and beyond

“We know our pain is questioned and our pain is not real to them,” said DeGallerie, who later started a group for Black COVID-19 survivors. “Getting medical help shouldn’t be discouraging for anyone. It is a discouraging place for Black people.”

COLUMN: PERRY: A YEAR IN PANDEMIC: Stay the course, Colorado — don’t make a mess with Texas

If “America First” looked its most ridiculous, it was when Colorado tabbed its first fatality from the novel coronavirus on March 13, 2020. There would be more than 6,000 more to follow — so far.

PICTURE THIS: Milestones in the pandemic

Timeline: One Year of Living in a Pandemic

March 5

First confirmed case of COVID-19 case in Colorado. It was a man traveling to Breckenridge to ski. 

March 10

Gov. Jared Polis declares a state of emergency in Colorado. 17 cases had been confirmed in Colorado, two in Arapahoe County. 

An aerial view of the line for COVID-19 testing at the CDPHE in Lowry, March 12, 2020. The wait time was estimated to be 3 to 4 hours at 11:30 a.m.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

March 16 

Hours after announcing they’d stay open, district and county courts in Arapahoe County joined umpteen other businesses and government functions in closing. 

March 26

Polis’ first stay-at-home order goes into effect. 

March 27

Weeks after shuttering, Cherry Creek schools and Aurora Public Schools originally planned to reopen on March 27. Students would not return for in-person classes until the fall. 

FILE – In this April 20, 2020, file photo, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis holds up a mask featuring the NFL Denver Broncos colors and logo during a news conference in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

April 3

Gov. Jared Polis publicly asks Coloradans to wear non-medical cloth face coverings using old t-shirts, bearing such slogans as “1998 guacamole champion.”

April 16

The city of Aurora announces it will furlough 576 employees, mostly part time employees, due to budget cuts because of the pandemic’s havoc on businesses and thus sales tax revenue. The city took other financial measures such as a hiring freeze to save the city money.

May 1 

Aurora Public Schools announces staff have handed out more than a half million free meals since the pandemic began. Public schools are major sources of food and nutrition for low-income kids. 

May 19

The Aurora City Council approved hazard pay for first responders who work in the city. The money was designated from CARES Act funding. 

Signage at the entrance to the Waffle House on Mississippi Avenue display the mask requirement and maximum capacity of the restaurant. A shooting that took place in the area of the restaurant was a direct result of a customer not wanting to follow these policies. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

July 24

After months of heated debate, Tri-County Health Department’s mask mandate goes into effect for Arapahoe and Adams counties. The rules layer on top of Polis’ statewide mask order. Cases in the Aurora region generally decline until October.

August 17

The first day of school for Cherry Creek School District students. The district put together an ambitious plan to start the school year in person, with students in cohorts rotating time on campus.

Students at the Challenge school head to class, the morning of Jan. 11. Cherry Creek School District students returned to class on Jan. 11, 2021, with elementary schools going back to full in-person learning and middle and high schools going back on a staggered schedule.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

August 18

The first day of school at Aurora Public Schools. The district opted for a more conservative plan, starting the school year remotely for most students and transitioning to a hybrid model in the fall.

September 15

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment debuts its “COVID-19 Dial.” The infamous color-coded rules set business and social restrictions based on virus metrics. 

COVID-19 transmission risk levels, determined by the Colorado and local departments of health

September 30 

The Sentinel reports that Aurora businesses fared very differently after seven months of the pandemic. Liquor stores sales are up, along with grocery stores and electronics. Restaurants and many other smaller businesses suffer while corporate retail stores appear stronger.

October 12

APS elementary and middle school students returned to the classroom in a hybrid model for the first time in the fall semester. 

October 22

In an emotional meeting, the APS school board votes to suspend in-person learning for all students for at least a month, and later for the remainder of the semester. APS students had almost no in-person learning in the fall semester.

October 25

Mayor Mike Coffman announces he has COVID-19 and self-quarantines. The mayor later recovers and resumes his regular roster of civic events. 

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman undergoes new coronavirus testing at a new free center in Aurora Aug. 10, 2020. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Third Wave: November-December 2020

The devastating “third wave” arrives in Colorado. Cases in the Tri-County region surge to never-before-seen levels, and at its peak, between 15 and 25 people succumb to the virus each day. 

November 5

As COVID-19 case rates continue to rise across the region, Cherry Creek announces that it will bring all students back to online learning for the rest of the semester. The district had 11 weeks of in-person learning, more than any other district in the Denver metro area.

November 6 

Street homelessness appeared to grow in Aurora throughout the pandemic, in part because shelters reduced capacities under social distancing guidelines. On Nov. 6 the city council approved a temporary homeless shelter in far northwest Aurora. 

November 28 

Gov. Polis and his partner Marlon Reis announce that they have tested positive for COVID-19. Polis had only a mild case, Reis had to be hospitalized in early December but later recovered.

December 14

The first vaccines are administered in Adams County. 

COVID-19 vaccines are loaded into syringes before inoculations Dec. 16, 2020, at the Medical Center of Aurora. TMCA received 375 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first delivery and expect 2100 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, pending the FDA’s approval for emergency use authorization.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

December 15 

Unemployment claims tick back up in Adams and Arapahoe counties. Area food banks tell the Sentinel that free food distribution lines are extremely long and demand remains high.

January 11

The Cherry Creek School District re-opens for in-person learning in a hybrid format. APS follows one week later. 

February 8

Following lobbying from educators across the state, teachers and school staff are made a priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and are eligible beginning Feb. 8. In partnership with healthcare providers, APS and CCSD vaccinate their thousands of staff members.

March 5

Tri-County receives its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the first single-shot vaccine on the market.