COLab

11:30 p.m.: Dr. Mercedes Rincon’s home office, Aurora

Jay Bouchard, 5280

 

For nearly three decades, Dr. Mercedes Rincon has studied a molecule so obscure and unremarkable that even her colleagues tease her about it.

 

The Spanish-born professor in the University of Colorado’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology was doing postdoctoral work at Yale when she stumbled upon an article about interleukin-6, or IL-6.

 

She became fascinated with the molecule commonly produced in inflammation, which is familiar to arthritis and cancer researchers searching for treatments.

 

When the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on human lungs, Rincon saw a familiar microscopic face in the mix: IL-6 is consistently present in the lungs of the most severely affected patients.

 

Whether IL-6 is a cause or a consequence of the coronavirus, Rincon isn’t sure. But she hypothesizes that drugs like tocilizumab, traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could possibly target IL-6 and prevent it from producing more damaging inflammatory molecules.

 

Early results from studies in China, as well as research in Europe and at the University of Vermont, show some promise.

 

“We can’t conclude anything yet,” she cautioned. “We have to be careful. We need more data.”

 

With the clock approaching midnight, a long day coming to a close, Rincon got to work crafting a grant proposal. She wants the University of Colorado to be at the forefront of this research.

 

With a little funding and a little luck, Rincon and her obscure molecule might just provide Coloradans — and the rest of the world — with a reason to hope.

 

6:30 p.m.: Home of Cat and Zach Garcia, Aurora

Adilene Guajardo, Denver7

 

Cat Garcia had been waiting for the call from the nurses at the neonatal intensive care unit, hoping to hear good news about her baby twin boys she had yet to meet.

 

Three weeks earlier, she lay in St. Joseph Hospital about to undergo an emergency cesarean section. Garcia wasn’t due for another six weeks but her doctors felt like they had little choice: She had tested positive for COVID-19, had pneumonia, and was having difficulty breathing.

 

Bright lights filled the room. Doctors and nurses were covered from head to toe in PPE. The drugs began to take hold, and everything went dark.

 

When Garcia woke up, she had a breathing tube in her mouth. A nurse held up her phone to show pictures of her newborn sons, Kal and Bruce. It was the closest she was going to get to them.

 

Her husband, Zach, who works for the Transportation Security Administration at Denver International Airport, had begun to show symptoms of COVID-19 on March 19. Cat Garcia developed a violent cough not long after, and the couple were suddenly facing the prospect of becoming parents in frightening times.

 

Released from the hospital while Kal and Bruce gained strength in the NICU, Garcia returned home. She pumped milk and unpacked baby clothes while hoping for good news.

 

When the call came, the news wasn’t good. The twins — both of whom have tested negative for the coronavirus — still weren’t feeding well enough. Watching them on the NICU webcam would have to be good enough for a while longer.

 

“We haven’t been able to hold them or see them,” Garcia said.

 

Three days later, the twins were sleeping in car seats on their way home, dressed in matching powder-blue pajamas and hooked up to oxygen to help them breathe.

 

5 p.m.: Fire Station 52, Brighton

Liam Adams, MetroWest Newspapers

 

Capt. Colin Brunt climbed into Brighton Fire Rescue Tower 51, a 46-foot long fire truck with a ladder. Trailed by his colleagues in Engine 52, Brunt traveled to Bason Kramer’s house to wish the 5-year-old a happy birthday. When they arrived, the crews switched on their lights and honked their horns while a firefighter stepped out to hand the boy a certificate.

 

This was not a typical day for the Brighton Fire Department, but it was a welcome one.

 

Since COVID-19 began to spread, Brunt has worked six 48-hour rotations. Each day of every rotation, he’s responded to multiple COVID-19 medical calls.

 

When his six-person firefighter and EMS team shows up to a house with a presumed positive case, a paramedic enters the house for reconnaissance while Brunt and his team prepare an ambulance for the patient by wrapping the inside of the cabin with thick plastic.

 

Before the birthday party, Brunt’s unit extinguished a car fire, helped out on a call of a tractor-trailer hanging off the side of a highway and responded to a fire alarm. Brunt took a mask and worries about exposure to the coronavirus.

 

“That’s our worst-case scenario that goes through all of our heads, bringing something back to our family,” said Brunt, who is married and has two daughters in kindergarten.

 

Birthday drive-bys — which more fire departments are doing to lift the spirits of isolated children — and other non-coronavirus calls were a nice change. “It’s a morale booster,” Brunt said.

 

4:44 p.m.: Masjid Al-Shuhada, Downtown Denver

Victoria Carodine, 5280

 

In a building that can hold up to 200 praying together, Imam Muhammad Kolila was alone as he prayed the Salat al-‘asr, one of Islam’s five daily prayers.

 

“One of the things I really miss about community, before coronavirus, is that sense of belonging and that sense of human, physical interactions,” he said afterward. “If we have good intentions, and we lack all the resources and we do our best to pray and make sure we pray in a group, we get the same reward as we would as if we pray in the mosque. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to highlight.”

 

Kolila has highlighted such teachings online. Like religious leaders of all faith traditions, Kolila has been streaming services — in his case, since March 16 — to provide spiritual direction at a trying time and keep his congregation connected as best he can.

 

“One of the main objectives and one of the main missions of this mosque is to provide a safe space for people to come and pray, and connect with God, but right now we cannot create that safe space—physically,” he said. “This is why our biggest challenge is to create the space virtually.”

 

In addition to providing spiritual guidance digitally, Kolila has helped members in need. He regularly delivers food, supplies and money to members. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan was about to begin, providing another test for the imam and his temporarily virtual congregation.

 

The easing of stay-at-home orders will raise additional questions for Masjid Al-Shuhada and other places of worship: What does praying together look like in the new normal of 2020?

 

2:30 p.m.: Home of Arapahoe County Coroner Dr. Kelly Lear, Centennial

Kevin Vaughan, 9NEWS

 

Arapahoe County coroner Dr. Kelly Lear was at home, in jeans and a turtleneck instead of her usual scrubs, handling the administrative tasks that go along with the job since she and her fellow pathologist must stagger days in the office to maintain social distancing.

 

But she was thinking about a case from early February: The death of a man in his 40s who had been seemingly healthy — with no serious pre-existing medical conditions – before falling ill with a cough a few weeks earlier. When she examined him then in the sterile autopsy room at the coroner’s office, she discovered lungs ravaged by an infection.

 

More than two months later, Lear was still searching for answers to why the man died.

 

The forensic pathologist suspected a virus and had ordered tests to prove it. The results came in mid-March. No flu. No other viruses. Nothing pinpointing what attacked his lungs.

 

“I was basically ready to sign his death certificate as severe lung disease – unknown infection,” she said.

 

But emerging news of the novel coronavirus got her thinking.

 

“He showed all the symptoms and had very severe lung disease – and it looked at autopsy like what we are hearing, you know, COVID-19 lungs look like,” Lear said.

 

A week later, Lear got the results of specimens she sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The man’s test was negative.

 

2 p.m.: On the Road from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek

Jennifer Brown, Colorado Sun

 

Nolan Christopher Dreher’s parents tucked him into his car seat in the back of their Toyota Highlander and drove snowy roads from Steamboat Springs to their home in Oak Creek. Nolan, cozy in a white onesie with bears on it, was two days old and on his way to meet his brothers.

 

Lauren Dreher was hoping she had been careful enough, that the nurses and doctors and the woman who came in her hospital room to take out the trash were not infected with the virus.

 

“At the end of the day you have to know that you did everything you could do,” she said. “I’m just hoping that that’s enough. I was trying so hard not to touch my face. You’re in labor and you brush your hair out of your face and wipe your brow.”

 

What a weird time to bring a new human into the world, she thought. Will Nolan get a vaccine to protect him against the new coronavirus? What if social norms change so much that her third son never knows a world where people shake hands?

 

Dreher, who had a complicated second pregnancy, planned to give birth to Nolan in Denver with an at-risk pregnancy specialist. She changed her mind as she watched the number of COVID-19 cases climb in the city. Plus, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center isn’t nearly as busy.

 

“It was just kind of eerie how quiet it was,” Dreher said. Adding to that surreal feeling was the fact that “everyone you came into contact with was wearing a mask, from the security guard to the nurses and doctors.” Dreher’s delivery team wore N95 masks and face shields. 

 

She was allowed one visitor: her husband, Christopher.

 

The Drehers are both furloughed. Lauren works for an orthodontist, and Christopher works at a French restaurant in Steamboat. They are trying to look at the bright side — more time with their new baby and sons Calvin, 6, and Landon, 4.

 

By late afternoon all were back in their warm home with a fresh blanket of snow outside, the first time together as a family of five.

 

1:30 p.m.: Self-storage locker, Grand Junction

Andrew Kenney, CPR News

 

The self-storage yard was empty when Dawna Numbers arrived. 

 

The rain had paused, so the 48-year-old moved quickly to load her clothes in plastic bags into the back of her red Kia for the long journey on a mostly empty interstate.

 

With no money for rent, Numbers was headed for her mother’s house on the Front Range.

 

Numbers has been out of work since March 25, when the coronavirus outbreak eliminated her night shift job at a fishing-line factory in Grand Junction. Like many Americans, she had tried fruitlessly to file for unemployment benefits. The state unemployment office had been slammed with more than 231,,000 new claims in the last month, slowing services to a crawl.

 

Numbers had taken the night job so she could attend physical therapy appointments during the day. She’s worked in the past as a utility locator, a caregiver, and a Lyft driver. She had few options in Grand Junction. Many employers are shut down because of the virus.

 

“I’ve never just felt so alone,” she said. Maybe this crisis would bring out something better in people, she hoped. Maybe she’d have better luck in Denver.

 

“We just need to do the best we can and hopefully this ends soon and somehow we can go back to some kind of normal life,” she said. “Or hopefully better than it was before.”

 

12:20 p.m., St. Joseph Hospital Emergency Room, Denver

Claire Cleveland, CPR News

 

It was another quiet day in the E.R., and the nurses gathered as they do every afternoon to discuss adjusting their schedules. This is a ripple effect of the pandemic: While parts of the health care system are stretched to the limit, emergency rooms are less busy.

 

“Not gonna lie,” said Dr. Ramnik Dhaliwal, who started his shift at 8. “A little bit bored today.”

 

More people than ever before are staying home, which means fewer accidents and injuries, Dhaliwal said. He had a patient who suffered a heart attack at home and didn’t go to the ER for three days. He said it’s part messaging — people heeding calls to avoid the hospital unless it’s a true emergency — but also fear of contracting the virus at the hospital.

 

Like all health care professionals, Dhaliwal wears personal protective equipment, or PPE. That means scrubs, a mask, protective glasses and a scrub hat. He understands the need, but he’s bothered that it takes away from the personal nature of his interactions with patients.

 

“Hopefully this doesn’t stay like this forever,” he said. “Just waiting for that vaccine.”

 

The slower traffic to the E.R. compounds the financial pressures facing health-care providers. To make sure resources are adequate to battle the virus, hospitals in Colorado and nationwide have postponed elective medicine including non-emergency surgeries and procedures.

 

The meeting of the nursing staff ended with the decision to send some home early.

 

Noon: Parking Lot of the El Jebel Laundromat, Eagle County

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times

Fabiola Grajales waited for the nose swab that would tell her whether she was finally free of the coronavirus and able to be near her family again

 

In one of Colorado’s COVID-19 hotspots, a coalition of Eagle County Public Health, MidValley Family Practice and the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance has set up this free mobile testing site. Most patients waiting at the open-sided tent were screened in advance and recommended for the tests after showing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.

 

Grajales, 27, a medical assistant at a Glenwood Springs clinic, said she started feeling sick March 2 and tested positive for the virus March 6. Over the next week, her cough worsened and she experienced shortness of breath.

 

“You know when you step on dry leaves? I could hear that sound coming from my lungs.”

 

“You get really bad headaches,” Grajales continued. “You feel like your eyes, they’re going to pop out. I couldn’t smell or taste anything.”

 

Doctors at Grand View Hospital in Rifle confirmed she had pneumonia, which is common among COVID-19 patients, and treated her there but didn’t admit her, she said.

 

She self-isolated for 10 days before symptoms disappeared. But a follow-up test showed she still had coronavirus. After more rest, Grajales felt “90% better, maybe 95,” she said.

 

Waiting her turn for yet another test, Grajales said the knowledge and contacts she’s gained working in health care helped her acquire tests and treatment, with some effort.

 

“It was hard for me,” she said. “I can’t imagine how hard it would be for other people.”

 

She would need to wait a bit longer to learn whether she was finally well.

 

11:15 a.m.: Avery Parsons Elementary School, Buena Vista

Jan Wondra, Ark Valley Voice

 

The vehicles pulled into the parking lot on the west side of the school.

 

Michelle Cunningham was there in a surgical mask and gloves, greeting parents and students by name and giving them thumbs-up signs and smiles in lieu of high-fives and hugs.

 

The school counselor has been struck by the volume of families showing up for free meals. Though nearly one-third of the school district’s roughly 1,100 students are eligible for government-subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty, only about 40 children a day typically take advantage, she said. Now the district is handing out 400 meals a day, she said.

 

“As counselors, we know brains work best when physiological needs are met,” Cunningham said. “Its benefits go beyond food. I’m out where I connect with families. We give them a warm smile, a ‘How are things going?’… It’s a highlight of the kids’ day — a daily field trip to go get your lunch! This check-in connection can make it easier for them to ask for help.”

 

In communities across the country, school buildings closed for learning remain open for meal distribution, extending a social safety net during the crisis. That holds true in Buena Vista, a tourism-dependent community set amid the majestic Collegiate Peaks.

 

With retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses closed, hundreds of families are out of work. Many just received their last paychecks. The virus caused the cancellation of a summer whitewater festival in nearby Salida, part of a $75 million rafting season for the local economy.

 

Even so, Cunningham said she is proud of how the community has rallied.

 

“The school board, the business owners, the community leaders, the churches, the school’s lunch ladies … Everyone is stepping up in so many ways to support each other.”