Coronavirus: New Labour leader Starmer pledges to work ‘constructively’ with government over COVID-19

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to work “constructively” with the government over the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Keir, who was elected Jeremy Corbyn’s successor on Saturday, has accepted an offer from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend a COVID-19 briefing next week.

The pair spoke on the phone earlier.

A spokesperson for the Labour leader said: “Keir offered to work constructively with the government on how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, accepted the prime minister’s offer to meet next week and agreed arrangements for Privy Council briefings and discussions.”

In his victory speech, Sir Keir said Labour had a “shared purpose” with the government in getting the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

He added: “Under my leadership, we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands.

“But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do.

“But we will test the arguments that are put forward.

“We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we’ll challenge that and call that out.

“Our purpose when we do that is the same as the government’s, to save lives and to protect our country, a shared purpose.”

Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “I have just spoken to @Keir_Starmer & congratulated him on becoming Labour leader.

“We agreed on the importance of all party leaders continuing to work constructively together through this national emergency.

“I have invited him and other opposition leaders to a briefing next week.”

The PM has written to opposition party leaders, telling them “we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency”.

The letter states: “Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of opposition parties in parliament to a briefing with myself, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser next week.

“I want to listen to your views and update you on the measures we have taken so far, such as rapidly expanding testing and providing economic support to businesses and individuals across the country.

“The government I lead will act in the national interest at all times and be guided by the best scientific evidence, and of course we will continue to engage constructively with all political parties on the national effort to defeat this pandemic.

“I have no doubt that – as we have so many times in the past – the people of the United Kingdom will rise to this current challenge, and we will beat coronavirus together.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “At this moment of national crisis, the role of all opposition parties must be to support measures to tackle the coronavirus, whilst also standing up for the most vulnerable by properly scrutinising the government.

“I look forward to working with Keir Starmer on that task.”

The UK has been in lockdown for more than 10 days, after the government announced stringent measures to try and limit the spread of COVID-19.

A leading scientist and government adviser has said social distancing measures could be relaxed within weeks if there are signs the epidemic is slowing.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson said the UK’s epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but said people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that 708 more people had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in the UK to 4,313.

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Anti-abortion group is short of signatures for ban at 22 weeks

An anti-abortion group did not turn in enough valid signatures to place a 22-week abortion ban on Colorado’s November ballot, the Secretary of State’s Office says.

The group, Due Date Too Late, will now have 15 days to collect more signatures. Because of a Denver judge’s order Thursday in favor of the activists, those 15 days will not begin until after the state’s emergency stay-at-home order is lifted.

The proposed Initiative 120 would make performing an abortion after 22 weeks a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, with an exception if it’s to save the mother’s life. A woman receiving an abortion cannot be punished under the proposed law.

Last month, Due Date Too Late turned in 137,624 signatures. An initial sampling found the group was likely short of the 124,632 valid signatures needed. Line-by-line verification of the signatures was then conducted, concluding Friday, and 114,647 signatures were accepted.

“Coloradans have repeatedly rejected abortion bans by landslide margins, so it’s not a surprise that this one failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot,” said Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, a Colorado abortion-rights group.

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All Out Politics podcast: Virus Pandemic – the past, present and future

Two weeks in to the UK lockdown, Adam Boulton and guests examine the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis so far as delays to the testing of frontline NHS workers result in some uncomfortable headlines for the prime minister.

They assess the lessons learned from previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu, the current response from ministers and the government’s exit strategy as comparisons are made with China and South Korea.

And reflections on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership as the party prepares to announce his successor.

Joining Adam this week are the historian Peter Frankopan and Sky’s political correspondent Kate McCann.

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Coronavirus: Government unveils five-point plan for 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day by end of April

The government has unveiled a five-point coronavirus action plan in a bid to achieve 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day by the end of April.

Matt Hancock set out the strategy to achieve a “significant” increase in testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at the government’s daily news conference.

The “five-pillar” plan involves:

  • Swab testing at Public Health England and NHS labs;
  • Using commercial partners, including universities and private businesses, to establish more swab testing;
  • Introducing antibody blood tests to determine whether people have had COVID-19;
  • Surveillance to determine the rate of infection and how it is spreading across the country;
  • Build an “at-scale” diagnostics industry to reach 100,000 tests by end of April.

Mr Hancock said the 100,000 figure included both the general public and NHS staff.

He vowed that health service staff will be able to get tested for the coronavirus “absolutely before the end of the month”.

Mr Hancock added: “With 5,000 tested since (staff testing) started at the weekend we’ve clearly made significant progress.”

He also announced that £13.4bn in historical NHS debt would be written off to help hospital trusts fight the virus.

Mr Hancock, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and came out of self-isolation on Thursday, said he returned “redoubled in my determination to fight this virus with everything I’ve got”.

“And we will strain every sinew to defeat it once and for all,” he said.

“And I will stop at nothing to make sure that frontline staff have the right equipment so that they are safe and can have the confidence they need to do their jobs.”

The ambitious pledge comes after criticism of government efforts to ramp up testing and disquiet that the UK is lagging behind other countries.

Mr Hancock addressed this criticism during the news conference, saying the fact that the UK lacked a large diagnostics industry meant it was having to start from a “lower base” than the likes of Germany.

The health secretary said a country-wide shortage of swabs had been “resolved”, but there was still a “global challenge” around sourcing the reagent chemicals needed for the tests.

Downing Street said earlier that it had finally reached its target of 10,000 daily tests on Tuesday, with 10,412 carried out on that day in NHS and Public Health England laboratories.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said 2,800 members of NHS staff have been tested at drive-through facilities, although “significant numbers” had also been tested at NHS and PHE labs.

Speaking during a conference call with journalists earlier on Thursday, the spokesman added that the government was working on a number of measures that would allow for “hundreds of thousands” of tests to be carried out each day.

“We acknowledge that more needs to be done in relation to testing,” he said.

“We need to be testing more people and we need to be making progress very quickly.”

An increase in testing of NHS staff would potentially enable thousands of them who are self-isolating, because they or their family members have shown symptoms, to return to work once they know they are clear of the disease.

In the wake of complaints about a shortage of swabs, the NHS has developed a new specification for the swabs to carry out the tests which has been validated and shared with potential manufacturers.

“We think that provides us with a way forward to complete hundreds of thousands of tests,” the Number 10 spokesman said.

A large-scale testing laboratory opened in Milton Keynes last week, with two more opening next week in Cheshire and Glasgow to cover the north of England and Scotland.

At the same time, the government is working with nine potential suppliers on developing an antibody test for the coronavirus.

This would show whether people have had the virus.

But the Downing Street spokesman preached caution, saying it was essential that they were accurate.

Other countries had introduced antibody tests which were not accurate with “significant adverse consequences”, he said.

The spokesman revealed the government had previously been offered tests which had not met the required levels of accuracy and would not have been safe to use.

More follows…

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New Labour Party leader warned of biggest challenge set to confront them ‘Just difficult’

The new Labour Party leader is to be announced this Saturday after longer than a month and a half of voting among party members. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is expected to emerge the winner after facing off with shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy. But former Downing Street adviser Nick Timothy warned Labour will face a huge struggle in winning back voters no matter who is proclaimed their next leader.

Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston, Mr Timothy said: “Whoever is leader of the Labour Party will find it difficult to bring together the voters that they have retained who are the new core voters for Labour – public sector workers, urban voters, university towns – and the white working classes that they’ve lost in the regions and in Scotland and Wales.

“Those are big structural problems for Labour and I think it will be difficult for any individual to put that right quickly.”

The former adviser claimed Lisa Nandy was so far the only candidate who had shown an attempt to listen to voters lost since 2016.

He continued: “I think Lisa is the most interesting of the three candidates in the Labour leadership campaign to date.

JUST IN: Corbyn attacked after penning ‘wish list’ parting swipe to Boris with coronavirus demands

“She’s at least shown an interest in trying to get the Labour Party to listen to the voters they’ve lost in the period between the Brexit referendum and the General Election in December.

“Keir Starmer is a competent and intelligent person.”

Voting for the challenge is due to end on April 2, with the results set to be announced on Saturday.

Alongside the new leader, a new deputy leader is also due to be announced because of Tom Watson’s early departure from the job in December.

READ MORE: David Cameron’s failures led to Brexit victory, say voters

Rebecca Long-Bailey confirmed all candidates had been asked to record a victory message so the video could be shared with voters as quickly as possible after the results are announced.

She told Sky News: “I think it’s trying to deal with these strange times and have an announcement on the leadership contest so that our members and the public can view from their homes really.

“It’s logistically quite challenging and I think we’ve all been asked to do this victory speech so that it can be sent out over the airwaves as quickly as possible after we win.”

The latest poll produced by YouGov showed Keir Starmer, who ran on a unity platform in the three-month-long contest, in the lead over Ms Long-Bailey and Ms Nandy.

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Hustings had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak and the conference scheduled to announce the winner of the contest also had to be pulled.

Jeremy Corbyn triggered the contest in December after announcing he would step down following Labour’s disastrous performance in the General Election.

Labour lost more than 50 seats, including some traditional constituencies in northern heartlands that turned for the first time to the Conservative Party.

Voters cited continued uncertainty over the party’s stance on Brexit, as well as Mr Corbyn’s leadership, as key reasons pushing them to turn away from the party.

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UK lockdown could be relaxed within WEEKS if EVERYONE plays part

Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said that if people stick to official government advice then numbers would fall – relieving pressure on the NHS. Offering a glimmer of hope to worried families he told the BBC: “If we all adhere to the measures then there is reason to believe they will begin to flatten the curve and we could see the evidence coming through that the NHS is being able to cope with the situation as best as possible. If that is the case then there may be the potential to relax measures in a sensible way in accordance with medical advice in the weeks and months that would follow that.”

But he warned that the next two weeks will be “critical” as Britain surges towards the peak of the outbreak.

“It’s likely the numbers will get worse in the coming days before they get better,” Mr Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Some experts have indicated that the worst period of the COVID-19 epidemic could strike between April 6 and April 20.

This is when most deaths are likely to occur.

And Mr Jenrick said the deaths of a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old with coronavirus is a reminder that the disease affects everyone.

BACK BRITAIN’S BRAVE NHS HEROES – CLICK HERE NOW

He told BBC Breakfast: “Every death is a tragedy, but two young people dying is even more sobering.

“It does remind us all that this is a virus that’s indiscriminate.

“It doesn’t just affect the elderly, or those who are extremely vulnerable because of their pre-existing conditions, although those people do need to take particular care.

“It can affect all of us and I think many young people have felt, or some young people have felt, almost invincible, and you saw that in some of the scenes a couple of weeks ago of young people out enjoying themselves when we first started to implement some of the social distancing measures.

“I think now everybody in the country understands and appreciates the seriousness of the situation, and is following the medical advice, which is to stay at home, by doing so protect the NHS and help to save lives.

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Coronavirus: MPs’ anger as Tottenham ask for taxpayers’ cash before cutting stars’ wages

Premier League football clubs have been told to cut their players’ salaries before seeking taxpayers’ cash to pay non-playing staff during the coronavirus crisis.

Tottenham Hotspur prompted anger on Tuesday when they announced they would be applying for a government scheme in order to use public funds to pay 80% of the wages of off-pitch employees.

The government’s job retention scheme pays employees unable to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak 80% of their monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500.

The Premier League season is currently suspended as the government urges people to stay at home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said he would “reduce the remuneration of all 550 non-playing directors and employees for April and May by 20% utilising, where appropriate, the government’s furlough scheme”.

The action was announced on the same day it was revealed Mr Levy earned a £3m bonus last year, as part of his £7m earnings, for delivering the club’s new stadium.

The Tottenham squad includes players such as England captain Harry Kane, who is estimated to earn up to £200,000 per week, and France captain Hugo Lloris, who is estimated to earn more than £100,000 per week.

Bahamas-based businessman Joe Lewis, thought to be worth more than £4bn, holds a controlling stake in Tottenham.

Fellow Premier League clubs Newcastle and Norwich have also chosen to use the government’s job retention scheme for their non-playing staff.

On Tuesday, Mr Levy expressed his hope that talks between the Premier League and players’ and managers’ unions would result in “players and coaches doing their bit for the football eco system”.

But senior politicians have told clubs they should have first sought a deal with their on-pitch stars before cutting the salaries of their non-playing staff and seeking government help.

Conservative MP Julian Knight, chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: “Furloughing staff is essential for smaller clubs but the big boys of the Premier League should be looking to come to a fair arrangement with their stars before they go cap in hand to the taxpayer.”

He also accused English football of operating in a “moral vacuum”.

Fellow Conservative MP Steve Brine, another member of the committee and a Tottenham fan, called on clubs and players to “show moral responsibility” through the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Wealthy football clubs MUST NOT be allowed to take public funds to furlough staff while still paying players big bucks,” he said.

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Flatter or fight? Governors seeking help amid coronavirus pandemic must navigate Trump. – The Denver Post

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — At first, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tried to play nice. He limited criticisms of the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and asked for medical supplies through official channels.

But nothing came, so he went on television. The first-term Democrat blasted the Trump administration on Sunday on CNN for failing to help states obtain masks, gloves and other protective gear.

It got President Donald Trump’s attention. After a Twitter feud and some mudslinging (Pritzker compared Trump to a “carnival barker”), the two got on the phone Monday, and Trump promised Illinois 250,000 masks and 300 ventilators.

Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, governors are trying to get what they need from Washington, and fast. But often that means navigating the disorienting politics of dealing with Trump, an unpredictable president with a love for cable news and a penchant for retribution.

Republicans and Democrats alike are testing whether to fight or flatter, whether to back channel requests or go public, all in an attempt to get Trump’s attention and his assurances.

At stake may be access to masks, ventilators and other personal protective gear critically needed by health care workers, as well as field hospitals and federal cash. As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., put it: “I can’t afford to have a fight with the White House.”

Underlying this political dance is Trump’s tendency to talk about the government as though it’s his own private business. The former real estate mogul often discusses government business like a transaction dependent on relationships or personal advantage, rather than a national obligation.

“We are doing very well with, I think, almost all of the governors, for the most part,” he said during a town hall on Fox News on Tuesday. “But you know, it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well.”

Such statements have some governors treading lightly. In a twist, some of the more flattering governors are Democrats.

Perhaps no governor’s approach is more uncharacteristic than that of California’s Gavin Newsom, a Democrat whose state calls itself the “resistance” to Trump. Newsom, usually a fierce Trump critic, has gone out of way not to lay the federal government’s failings during the coronavirus outbreak at Trump’s feet.

Newsom complimented Trump for “his focus on treatments” for the virus and thanked him for sending masks and gloves to California. He said the president was “on top of it” when it came to improving testing and said Trump was aware “even before I offered my own insight” of the state’s need for more testing swabs.

It’s an approach informed by Newsom’s past dealing with Trump during devastating wildfires. While Trump always has approved California’s requests for disaster declaration following fires, just days into Newsom’s tenure last year Trump threatened the state’s access to disaster relief money. Newsom also knows Trump is a careful watcher of his words and actions.

Trump has kept a close eye on the coronavirus media coverage and noted which local officials were praising or criticizing him, according to three aides who spoke on condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the president’s private deliberations. In conversations, Trump has blasted Whitmer and praised Newsom, they said.

There’s no evidence that Trump has held up a governor’s request for assistance for personal or political reasons. Still aides say it’s understood that governors who say nice things about the federal response are more likely to be spared public criticism from the White House or threats of withheld assistance.

Trump approved California’s request for a statewide disaster declaration within hours of Newsom asking on Sunday. Trump also has sent a Naval medical ship as well as eight field hospitals. New Jersey will be getting four field hospitals after a phone call between the president and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who has not criticized the president during the crisis.

Republican governors are navigating particularly difficult waters, knowing that any comments viewed as critical of the president could anger Trump’s loyal fans in their state. Some Republicans spoke out against Trump’s talk of reopening the U.S. economy by Easter in mid-April. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, head of the nonpartisan National Governors Association, called the White House messaging “confusing.”

Others tried to avoid directly contradicting Trump, even as they contradicted Trump.

“The best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get COVID-19 behind us,” Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, said as he urged Texans to follow restrictions on travel, public life and commerce.

GOP Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, who lead on the early action, described himself as “aligned” with Trump, but then also noted the state’s model did not show cases peaking until May 1. DeWine appealed to Ohioans to continue to stay home to limit the spread of the virus.

Those close to DeWine say he understands the importance of picking his battles.

“I think he recognizes this unprecedented once-in-a-century situation is bigger than politics,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, a former DeWine policy and campaign staffer.

It’s unusual to see a president and governors publicly feuding and name-calling while their country teeters on the brink of disaster. In past recent crises, presidents and state leaders have gone out of their way to show that politics plays no role in disaster response, and to project the appearance of cooperation. In 2005, as Republican President George W. Bush’s administration received criticism for its handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, there was never a sense he was withholding help for personal reasons, said former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

“I never had to worry that President Bush would be angry with me, personally, so he wouldn’t help the people of my state,” she said. “I knew he wasn’t a petty leader.”

In 2012, weeks before the general election, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, memorably made a show of their close personal relationship as they dealt with the devastation from Superstorm Sandy.

In this moment, some governors have tried both compliments and confrontation, knowing the president responds to both. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., was frustrated last week that Trump had not stepped up the federal response to hard-hit regions, he tried a counterintuitive approach.

In a series of cable TV interviews, Cuomo praised Trump for changing his tone about the severity of the virus and starting for focus on resources. In a call to the White House, Cuomo delivered the same grateful message privately, according to two officials with knowledge of the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly talk about the private discussions.

Trump later expressed happiness to aides and advisers that Cuomo had said such nice things about him, according to two White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing.

A week later, when Cuomo delivered an urgent, frustrated plea for ventilators Tuesday, he notably didn’t mention Trump by name. Shortly after, a White House official said 4,000 more ventilators would be shipped to New York.

But later that day, Trump vented to aides about Cuomo’s cry for help, complaining that the governor made it seem like Washington had abandoned him, according to those White House officials and Republicans.

His anger broke through during the town hall. When Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the coronavirus response, was describing testing problems and mentioned New York’s high transmission rate, Trump interjected, trying to push Birx to criticize Cuomo: “Do you blame the governor for that?”

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Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, and Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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Denver’s stay-at-home order will be extended to slow coronavirus

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told The Denver Post on Tuesday that he will extend his stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed seven people in the city.

“April 30 looks like it’s going to become the new target,” he said.

The official announcement will likely come Monday. Hancock said he’s speaking frequently with Gov. Jared Polis and either the governor will issue a statewide extension or the mayor will issue the order for Denver alone.

“He knows we’re ready to roll,” Hancock said of Polis.

Hancock first ordered residents to stay home from March 24 until April 10, closing nonessential businesses and public places in Denver and cementing social distancing recommendations with the possibility of legal enforcement.

Polis, initially resistant to doing the same for all of Colorado, followed suit two days later with a statewide order that’s effective through April 11. Hancock adopted the language of Polis’ statewide order Friday to eliminate confusion between the two stay-at-home directives.

The governor has said a statewide extension appears increasingly likely but he needs more data before making the decision.

President Donald Trump — once hopeful the country would reopen by Easter on April 12 — recently extended social distancing recommendations through April 30.

The stay-at-home order currently in place is effective at slowing the transmission of the virus, but it’s not effective enough, Hancock said. Some have been slow to embrace the changes, particularly young people and a few businesses.

Already police have made more than 3,000 contacts with residents, issued more than 600 warnings and written five citations for violating the orders, Hancock said. The overall goal is voluntary compliance with the law rather than legal enforcement.

Under the city extension, the details of the order will remain the same: Restaurants can still offer carryout and delivery. Denver International Airport will continue to operate, and group activities are prohibited in city parks. Liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and firearm retailers are allowed to remain open, as well.

Since his initial order, Hancock has taken to Twitter to check in on residents, offer a few activity suggestions for those staying at home and review acceptable reasons to leave home.

City officials also closed certain roads and parking lots across Denver’s parks to further discourage social gatherings.

Reports of the virus’ spread slowing in national hot spots such as Seattle indicate that social distancing measures such as stay-at-home orders are effective. Polis said Monday it’s too soon to see the results of Colorado’s stay-at-home order, but the closure of restaurants and bars has helped.

Closing major swaths of the economy has steep costs, however. The unemployment rate in Colorado is expected to double in the next three weeks, and many who have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut back are worried about their ability to pay their rent or mortgage.

The restrictions also are cause for concern for domestic abuse victims forced to remain with their abusers.

Also, Denver is struggling to find enough individual spaces for those experiencing homelessless even as two positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, hit that population last week.

As April 30 nears, Hancock said, he and city public health experts will keep a close eye on Denver’s rate of positive tests, among other metrics, to determine whether the order should be extended further.

Once it’s time for the order to end, he said, he will look for ways to phase in social interactions safely rather than lifting the stay-at-home requirements all at once.

Join our Facebook group for the latest updates on coronavirus in Colorado.

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Coronavirus hits Denver’s homeless population as 2 test positive

At least two people experiencing homelessness in Denver have tested positive for the new coronavirus, advocates say, marking a new and particularly trying chapter in the city’s efforts to quell community spread.

The two positive results came from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless’ Stout Street Health Center, said Cathy Alderman, a coalition spokesperson. About 50 people have been tested so far and about 20 of those results are still pending.

It’s unclear how many other tests Denver Health and other organizations have conducted for those experiencing homelessness. Representatives from Denver Health did not return messages Friday seeking comment.

Early last week a quarter of the city’s available individual rooms were occupied with those who might have caught the virus. The number of available rooms has multiplied since, but so has the need. Now half of Denver’s available rooms are occupied.

The city also has opened a supplemental shelter more conducive to social distancing for those who show possible symptoms of coronavirus.

“We have worked with the patients to get them into safe locations to isolate and recover,” Alderman said.

One person who tested positive for the coronavirus has stayed at the Denver Rescue Mission, according to spokesperson Alexxa Gagner, but it’s not clear whether that person was one of the two positive cases tested at the Stout Street center.

A mother and child staying at a Catholic Charities of Denver shelter exhibited symptoms and were separated from the group setting and quarantined, said spokesperson Nisa LaPoint. So far that pair has not tested positive for the virus.

People experiencing homelessness are at particular risk for spreading the virus because often they live in close quarters with extremely limited sanitation facilities available, said Terese Howard, spokesperson for Denver Homeless Out Loud.

Shelters aren’t outfitted for the six-foot social distancing measures recommended by national and global health experts, and Howard said many feel unsafe there.

“A lot of people have come up asking for tents and other survival gear,” Howard said. “They feel safer in those tent encampments than those staying in the shelters.”

City officials are working to find individual rooms for those who test positive or need to be quarantined while awaiting test results.

Currently 119 individual rooms are available, Heather Burke, spokesperson for Denver’s Joint Information Center, said in an email.

“We’re working currently with hotel and motel operators to scale up the number of respite rooms that are needed to serve our community for individuals experiencing homelessness — we are in conversation for potentially hundreds of rooms,” Burke said.

Sixty of the available rooms are currently occupied, said Derek Woodbury, spokesperson for Denver’s Department of Housing Stability.

“These are persons who need to self-quarantine because they are highly vulnerable, are awaiting test results for COVID-19, or who have tested positive for the virus,” Woodbury said in an email.

But the 10 dozen rooms the city has found are only a fraction of what could be needed. Denver Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher has put the the potential need at 3,900 rooms,, while Howard said it could be 10,000.

Even as efforts to secure rooms continue, some living on the brink of homelessness are being evicted from their short-term rental rooms — a move in the wrong direction, Alderman has said.

People living on the streets suffer from underlying health problems at a much higher rate than the housed, adding to the homeless population’s vulnerability to the virus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19.

Not only could the disease spread quickly among that population, but it could easily jump to Denver’s housed population as well, Howard and others said.

To help curb spread within shelters, Denver officials have opened a supplemental, around-the-clock shelter better suited for social distancing, Burke said. That supplemental shelter is open to guests referred there for exhibiting symptoms of the virus, she said.

Fifteen people are currently in that shelter, Burke said.

Howard called on city officials to stop clearing out homeless encampments and instead provide portable bathrooms and hand-washing facilities. In addition, they must find and put to use vacant hotel, motel, apartment and dormitory rooms, she said. Recreational vehicles, tent cities and tiny homes are also possibilities, she said.

“Our whole society is put at risk because our government, our people, our businesses, our hotels, our whole society refuses to actually care about the lives of people without housing,” Howard said.

Join our Facebook group for updates on coronavirus in Colorado.

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