U.S. senator says vaccine could be 18 months away

As the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab conducted 44 tests Saturday, for the first time since Thursday no new cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) were announced in the state.

The department reported eight cases on Friday that are “presumptive positive” — meaning they need confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — throughout the state. That number remained the same as of Saturday night.

None of the cases are in Pueblo, Otero or Bent counties; the closest one is in the Colorado Springs area, with others in Denver and Douglas, Eagle and Summit counties. Five cases involve international travel.

When cases test positive, the individual and their close contacts like family members and roommates are instructed to “isolate”  — in the case of a person with a positive test — or “quarantine” themselves if there is suspected exposure, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Also, the state or local public health agency works to identify other possible contacts.

The U.S. death toll from the virus rose to 19, with all but three of the victims in Washington state, according to The Associated Press. The number of infections increased to more than 400, scattered across states. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas reported their first cases.

Sen. Michael Bennet, who was at Colorado State University on Friday, said he's been told by experts that a vaccine against the virus is likely "a year and a half" away from being ready for widespread human use.

"I'm sure we're going to do it as quickly as we can, but people also need to be realistic about how long it takes," the Denver Democrat told reporters.

In a tour of CSU's Biosecurity Lab in Fort Collins, researchers briefed Bennet on their own efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent the new virus. Researchers demonstrated how older technology developed to protect blood supplies on the battlefield is being used to develop a potential vaccine.

The technology combines riboflavin, or Vitamin B2, with ultraviolet light and attacks the DNA so pathogens can't grow, said Howie Carpenter, associate director of business development at CSU's Infectious Disease Research Center.

"It's exciting to see them developing a vaccine," Bennet said.

The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment plans a webcast about COVID-19 on Thursday at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the community to watch at www.facebook.com/pueblohealth.

Coloradans who have general questions about coronavirus can call 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org.

Pat Ferrier of the Fort Collins Coloradoan/USA TODAY Network contributed to this report.

rlopez@chieftain.com

Twitter: @lopezricardojr