December 28, 2020
Flexibility, resilience, dealing with unexpected changes and conditions have become the hallmarks of 2020. We begin 2021 with an updated plan as well.
As noted on November 28 (below), CCB classes have been virtual since the Thanksgiving holiday break. Six students remained in our apartments in Littleton, wile the rest returned home to do their virtual classes on Zoom from there. The center’s normal holiday break began on December 18, and the six students who had been in our apartments returned to their homes for this two-week period.
For the new year, students will begin returning on January 3, and virtual classes will start on January 5. We will quarantine for up to two weeks, and have arranged testing for January 11 at our apartments. All students and staff will be tested at that time. We expect to get those testing results before the end of that week, and plan to return to the center and in-person training no later than January 18, maintaining our social distancing, mask-wearing and cleaning protocols.
Thanks to Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment and Tri-CounAll students and staff will be tested at that time. y Health for assistance in arranging testing and planning a safe return.
November 28, 2020 Update
Beginning June 1, 2020, the Colorado Center for the Blind slowly returned to in-person instruction with strict policies on social distancing, masks, etc. (see the policy of May 31 below). We built our student load to about 20 students at a time, but not exceeding that number, which is about two-thirds of our pre-COVID-19 student count. We are gratified that eight of our students completed all of their remaining graduation requirements and received their Freedom Bells in this six-month period when Colorado infection rates remained relatively low. Of course, as we all know, a dramatic new surge of COVID-19 has been building as the autumn progressed.
On November 18, we informed our students that we would move again to a virtual learning strategy. We came to this decision after consultation with our Board of Directors on November 12, and with further research and discussions afterwards. Beginning Monday, November 30, all classes will be conducted virtually for the remaining three weeks leading up to the Christmas break. Our Executive Director Julie Deden and Assistant Director Brent Batron met with all five classes that morning to inform students of the decision, explain the choices students will have, and to answer their questions. Julie wanted to meet with students in person to announce the decision, rather than making the announcement over our morning announcements call on Zoom. This was a tough decision for our students to process because it meant they had to decide to stay at our apartments and forego family gatherings for Thanksgiving, or to return home to do their virtual work from there.
With the rise in COVID-19 numbers in Colorado, including Arapahoe County where the center is located, it became impossible to imagine how the center could come back after the Thanksgiving break, when many students plan to spend a day or a long weekend with family across the country and remain able to keep our students and staff safe and the center open. Like so much of the nation, transmission, infection and hospitalization rates have been breaking records on a daily basis here.
In the face of this, and the estimate the week of November 16 that one of every 83 Arapahoe County residents may be infected, the virtual option seemed the only responsible and safe way to carry forward with the training our students need and want so bad. Even as we sought out testing options with state and county health officials, we realized that a couple of positive tests after Thanksgiving would kick our protocol into action, forcing a two-week quarantine. Since there are only three weeks between Thanksgiving break and when we send students home for the two-week holiday break, it didn’t make sense to come back in-person at all.
Here is a summary of key points:
1. All classes will be virtual as of November 30, so students are free to return to their homes or stay in our apartments, whichever is most workable for them;
2. If students wish to remain in our apartments, they cannot go home and visit family over Thanksgiving, whether they live 7 minutes or 7 hours away;
3. Outside visitors to our apartments, including former students, will not be permitted, just as during the spring lockdown;
4. Staff have a full three weeks of curriculum prepared in each area, and we will provide students who need it a laptop with NVDA installed, whether at their homes or in our apartments. In addition, other materials will be ready for students to take for their classes in Braille, Travel, etc.;
5. We plan to return on schedule January 5, outside factors permitting. Ideally, we would have a testing strategy in place for that time, but this would likely include as much as one week of quarantine and virtual classes prior to returning to in-person learning. We continue to seek a testing resource so that we can minimize virtual learning time after the Christmas break, but it is possible that we will have as much as two weeks of virtual learning if we can’t secure testing.
We very much appreciate the ongoing input and support of our board of Directors during the pandemic and the unprecedented decisions we had had to face thus far in 2020.
May 31, 2020
Health and Safety Protocol for COVID-19
(Editor’s Note: The month of May, with COVID-19 restrictions beginning to ease across Colorado as infection rates have steadily declined, our CCB management team, staff and members of the Board of Directors have been hashing out plans for a cautious, incremental approach to re-opening our training center. The Health and Safety Protocol below was one first big step, along with a tentative timeline. Since the protocol’s adoption we’ve been working to prepare the center, ourselves and our students. Staff began coming in intermittently and in small numbers on May 18. on June 1, our seven hardy students who have weathered the shutdown at our apartments will return to the center for the first time since March 16. All staff members and every student will be required to sign the protocol.)
Adopted/Approved by the Colorado Center for the Blind Board of Directors on May 15, 2020
The Colorado Center for the Blind is committed to ensuring the safety of our students and staff members in the course of carrying out our mission to provide world-class training in blindness skills. Following Executive Order D 2020-044 by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, as well as guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Tri-County Health Dept. (TCHD), we have established a number of safety measures and requirements that must be met in order for students and staff to participate and work at the Center as we begin preparations to resume training in person.
All students who have been away from the Center and all new referrals will be interviewed extensively in order for us to determine if it will be necessary for the student to be quarantined in their Center apartment for two weeks prior to coming in to the Center for class. If the individual needs to be quarantined, we will provide instruction during this time using various platforms (Zoom, cell phone, etc.). We will also work closely with the student to ensure that they have groceries and other necessary items. Any “vulnerable” individuals as defined by the previously referenced Governor’s Executive Order will not be allowed to return to the Center until deemed appropriate by public health authorities. “Vulnerable” Individuals are defined as:
1. Individuals who are 65 years and older;
2. Individuals with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
3. Individuals who have serious heart conditions;
4. Individuals who are immunocompromised;
5. Pregnant women; and
6. Individuals determined to be high risk by a licensed healthcare provider.
Travelling to and from the Center
Students and staff will travel to and from the Center in small groups. They will use both the 59 and 36 bus routes. Students who are interested will have the option to walk to and from the Center. The use of masks are required at bus stops and also on the buses. The times for classes will be staggered to keep class size down and to make allowances for RTD’s far more restricted service.
Arriving at the Center
Students will report to a check-in station when arriving at the Center, where they will be screened for symptoms every day.
Use of Face Masks
The Colorado Center for the blind will initially provide two face masks for each individual. These masks are required to be used in classes and in all common areas. Individuals will have the opportunity to take “mask breaks” outside, so long as appropriate social distance rules are followed. Staff may have breaks in their offices when others are not present with them. These masks must be cleaned daily to minimize contagion. We will establish guidelines for methods to be used in order to wash masks, and students and staff will receive instruction.
All students and staff are required to wash their hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon arrival each day. Everyone must wash hands between classes, before and after lunch. There is already a designated hand-washing sink in the small kitchen, particularly for use by Home Management. In addition, we will designate the art room sink as a downstairs hand-washing station. These are in addition to the sinks in the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, which is a total of six more sinks.
Although hand washing is recognized as the most effective method of avoiding the spread of the coronavirus, properly using hand sanitizer dispensers is also effective. Dispensers will be placed in all classrooms for convenience, as well as at the front desk and the back door, just inside the smoking area on the north side of the building.
All individuals must make a concerted effort to stay six feet apart. Classrooms and offices will be set up to accommodate distancing. We will not have large group meetings, but rather will continue to use the Zoom platform for announcements and philosophy classes. We will have three different times for lunch breaks. The front staircase will be used to go downstairs, and everyone going upstairs will need to use the north staircase.
Coffee, Drink Service, and Soda Machine
During designated break times, individuals may want to obtain a soda, a cup of coffee, or some tea. We will have servers available to minimize traffic at the coffee bar and to minimize the potential spread of contagion. Everyone will be encouraged to bring a water bottle and will fill them using the faucets. The water dispenser will be turned off. The soda machine in the locker hallway will be working, but staff and students should observe social distancing when waiting to make a purchase. In addition, sanitizing products including hand sanitizer should be used before and after buying and obtaining a soda. We will also have bottled water available.
Everyone will be reminded to always wash hands thoroughly after being in the bathroom. After drying hands with a paper towel, everyone will be encouraged to keep it in hand while opening the door to exit. We have placed trashcans outside of each bathroom to allow the convenient disposal of paper towels after leaving the bathroom.
Sleepshades and Other Classroom Materials
We will no longer be providing used sleepshades if they are left at home. If a student cannot find their sleepshades, they will be required to purchase a new pair. Each student will be responsible for bringing their own Braille instructional book to class along with their own slate and stylus. All materials must be kept in the student’s locker between classes. Each student shall be issued their own headphones for computer class. These also should be stored in the student’s locker room when not in use in tech class.
After each class period, students and staff will be required to wipe down all areas and any equipment that has been used with sanitizing products. This may include Braillers, computer keyboards, Braille displays, etc. Everyone will need to wipe down their sleepshades and canes regularly. Our cleaning staff in the evenings will take extra precautions and will clean thoroughly. We will also have hand sanitizer available throughout the building for use.
Use of the Kitchen
Everyone will need to wash their hands thoroughly prior to using the kitchen, whether it be for class or for lunch. We will have gloves available to wear while in the kitchen. Social distancing requirements will be observed, and staff will regulate the number of individuals in each kitchen at a given time. We will be using the dishwashers a great deal for sanitation purposes. All surfaces will need to be wiped down at the end of each class period, including counters, sink areas, appliances and microwaves, and during class periods as necessary.
Food Preparation and Safety
All individuals will be required to wear both disposable gloves and face masks while preparing and serving food. This applies in the Center’s kitchens and at student apartments.
Social distancing will be observed at apartments and on the apartment grounds by all staff and students. Everyone is required to use a face mask when visiting others. All surfaces in apartments will need to be wiped down daily using sanitizing products. At this time, all outside visitors are prohibited at our apartments in order to minimize the potential introduction of contagion.
Contraction of COVID-19 or Illness
If a student or staff member feels ill in the morning, he or she should not come into the Center, even if symptoms are very mild. Students and staff must call Executive Director Julie Deden immediately to report symptoms. Likewise, if staff or student begin to feel ill during the day, they should report to the Executive Director immediately. If we observe symptoms in a staff member or student, we will isolate them, take their temperature, and seek medical advice. If we suspect COVID-19, we will arrange for testing as soon as possible. Immediate quarantine will be necessary for any individual suspected of contracting COVID-19 or who has been exposed to someone else who has been infected. If a staff member, student, or guest tests positive for Coronavirus, the Center will immediately be closed for a period not shorter than 72 hours for deep cleaning. If more than one individual contracts the virus, the Center will be closed for at least two weeks. Upon closure, All students and staff will go into quarantine immediately. We will follow all subsequent guidance from the Tri-County Health Department and other public health authorities with respect to preventing further infections among students and staff and in readying the Center to reopen following such an outbreak.
I, ________________________, acknowledge that I have read and understood this Health and Safety Protocol. I further affirm that I agree to abide by its terms while on property at the Colorado Center for the Blind’s facilities. I understand that failure to follow this protocol means I may be dismissed.
Still Staying at Home, Slow, Cautious Are the Next Steps
We hope that all of you are safe and well and making the best of these difficult times.
We’re still in the stay-at-home mode at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Colorado Governor Jared Polis’s slight lifting of restrictions to the “safer-at-home” level notwithstanding, Arapahoe County, like Denver and other metro counties, did not lift the stay-at-home restrictions on Monday, April 27. The order in Arapahoe County will remain in place until at least May 8.
That’s because County officials and the Tri-county Health Dept. agree. We need a little longer yet before slowly opening up again. Arapahoe County, which includes the city of Littleton and the Colorado Center for the Blind have the second largest number of positive tests in the state (2706) and the second largest number of deaths (156) attributed to COVID-19 as of May 3. Only Denver has more.
So, no hair or nail appointments yet. But that also means that we’ll continue as we have. Our daily philosophy class, our morning check in with students and staff at the apartments, as well as weekly meetings with travel, Tech, Braille and Home Management. Last Monday, Travel instructors did a class using the Denver Street guide. Every Friday, Home Management & Home Maintenance hold a class for all students, followed by a cooking project with students at our apartments. One project had them all making barbecue chicken. And then on Mondays, there’s Cultivating Daily Health with Maureen and Anna.
We are extremely grateful to all the outstanding guests we’ve had at our daily Philosophy Class, including National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono, our NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre, a blind race car driver, a blind BBC journalist, and a Beep Baseball Hall of Famer, and many more. Thank you all. Your contributions to our staff and students in this difficult time have greatly enriched our lives as blind people!
Meanwhile, we hold two staff meetings per week, and weekly departmental meetings focus on reviewing and revising their respective curricula. Our Youth Program’s FAST (Fun Activities and Skills Training) holds a call for youth every other Friday night (May 8 will focus on accessible apps). Even our Seniors are meeting on the Zoom platform twice a week, along with regular calls by Senior Services staff to individuals every day.
This is a busy schedule, to be sure. In fact, our Zoom calendar is crammed full! but it’s not the same as having our students at the center and seeing them every day. The easing of stay-at-home restrictions, when it comes to us in Littleton, will likely be slow, not to mention the additional concerns around airline travel to bring our students back. Even if restrictions are eased in Arapahoe County after May 8, we still may be restricted to gatherings of less than ten people for at least a few more weeks, pushing the return of staff and students to something like a normal schedule out even further.
But we’re teaching, learning and growing even in the face of these strange, extreme conditions. One thing’s for sure, we’ve all learned a lot about managing and participating in online meetings. And Director Julie Deden and the Management Team are working to stay on top of the restrictions, the changes and consulting with the Tricounty Health Department to be sure we know when and how we can slowly return to normalcy.
The next steps will be slow, cautious ones. But our mission is to teach the successful, nonvisual skills of blindness that we’ve taught for more than three decades. And we are anxious to get back to it!
March 30, 2020
Hunkered Down and Hanging In
News of the rapid spread of the coronavirus comes at us hourly, it seems, and our lives have certainly been disrupted in ways we could never have imagined. In Colorado, we’ve been under a “Stay at Home” order for five days now, and we’re all doing our best to stay busy, safe and positive.
At the Colorado Center for the Blind, we had already taken a number of steps to both protect our staff and students and to do our part to help limit the spread of the virus.
- We began calling our seniors the week of March 16 and talking individually with them, rather than holding group meetings as we typically do. Obviously, the nearly 200 Older Individuals with Blindness (as federal law refers to them, typically age 50 and up) we serve each month in an 8-county area are, by definition, in the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. Our Senior Services staff have since worked out a way to conduct small group meetings by simple telephone calls.
- we sent most of our ITP students home on March 21 because it had become obvious that this was going to last more than just a few weeks. This was a painful farewell, to say the least. Certainly, we didn’t want to send our students away, even if only for a few months and for their own safety and comfort. But also, our students struggled with the idea that their training programs were being interrupted, and no way of knowing for how long. All but seven packed up and got on a plane or bus. Those seven remain at our apartments in Littleton, but obviously subject (like all of us) to the “Stay at Home” order.
- We hold Zoom check-in calls for our students at the apartments every weekday morning at 8:15 a.m. This call includes Vicki and her husband Mark, as well as our intern Holly. This way we can see how everyone is doing, talk about activities for the day, problem-solve issues that may arise, etc.
- Our students at the apartments (and our staff and students who have returned to their homes elsewhere) are encouraged to get outside in this increasingly lovely spring weather, get some exercise, and to socialize with each other from the prescribed 6 feet distance.
- We hold our philosophy Class every day at 11:30 a.m. for all of our current ITP students (wherever they are) and our staff, just as we do normally. It’s often a noisy, joyous call until Martin gets the order to mute all. We’ve had a number of extraordinary guests in our first week, and have others scheduled in upcoming weeks to talk about their lives as blind people and how the philosophy of the National Federation of the blind (NFB) has had a positive impact on them. It is the philosophy of the NFB that serves as the foundation of what and how we teach blindness skills at the Colorado Center for the Blind. We hope to begin posting the audio from these sessions soon.
A shout-out here to Mark and Holly, who’ve been holding down the fort at our apartments for the past couple of weeks. Vicki returned to the McGeorge Mountain Terrace on Friday after more than two weeks’ absence. She had hip surgery on March 11 and was then transferred to a rehab facility for physical therapy and recovery.
Shout-out to Vicki! She got home on Friday, and everyone is delighted about her recovery and glad to have her back! We expect to see her skipping about on the apartment grounds very soon!
Shout-outs to Carol, Ramona and Peggy, our staff members who also drive. mail deliveries from the center, shopping trips, trips to the airport and more, beyond their normal duties!
And in the same category, why not mention volunteers like Julie H. and Greg for helping with similar support!
March 21, 2020
Center Sends ITP Students Home for the Duration of the COVID-19 Crisis
The Colorado Center for the Blind Thursday made the painful decision to send our students home until the COVID-19 crisis eases. Though we had just implemented a remote-learning strategy with our Independence Training Program (ITP) students on Tuesday that we felt would be viable for a couple of weeks, by Thursday it was quite clear that two weeks of voluntary quarantine wouldn’t be nearly enough time. , On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis asked bars and restaurants to stop serving except for pick up orders, Colorado universities asked students to go home, and K12 schools began turning extended spring breaks into completely online learning through the end of the school year. we could see that we needed to get our students home while they could still get there. So today (Saturday), the last of our students are flying home.
“It will be my happiest day when I know you will all be on your way back to Colorado,” Executive Director Julie wrote students in an e-mail this morning.
In another e-mail yesterday, she informed the Center’s Board of Directors:
I am saddened to say that we made the decision to send almost all of our students home at this time. After further developments in regards to the virus, it became apparent that the soonest we could even think about opening would be mid April. We felt that it would not be best for our students if we kept them all here. We felt that they needed to be close to their families and other loved ones. So tomorrow (Saturday) everyone but six students will be leaving. We purchased their tickets, have staff and volunteers taking them to the airport and are providing all of the support that we can. We have also contacted their rehabilitation counselors so that they are aware of what we are doing.
The six students who remain in our apartments have staff members and our intern on site as well. Those students were unable to return home for compelling individual reasons. For one recently arrived student, he’d rented his house, so he couldn’t go back there at this time.
While we won’t be carrying out a full day’s training schedule as we had planned for our remote learning strategy, instructors will continue to contact students to provide support during the upcoming weeks, and to help them maintain their connection to the Center and their training goals. We will also continue our daily Philosophy Class at 11:30 each weekday via the Zoom conferencing app, featuring leaders in the National Federation of the Blind from Colorado and across the country. Staff will address a number of larger projects in their respective departments, and hold staff conference calls at least twice weekly.
“I could not direct the center effectively if it were not for each and every person that we have on staff,” Julie wrote to staff this morning. “Everyone cares so much and has passion for what we do to make a difference for our students. Even more, I love working with everyone as you are all our CCB family. I feel so sad that we will not all be seeing each other every day. I know how fortunate we all are to work together and to help create success for our students and also for each other too.”
March 17, 2020
Colorado Center for the Blind Temporarily Shifts to Online Learning
As of Monday, March 16, we are changing our standard operational mode at the Colorado Center for the Blind until at least March 30, at which time we will reassess the rapidly-changing public health situation in Colorado. Our main facility at 2233 W. Shepperd Ave. will host no classes, but a skeleton crew will be on hand to handle phone calls, receive mail and other shipments and continue general administrative duties.
Students will remain at our apartment complex on S. Lowell Blvd. They and their instructors will essentially maintain their regular schedule, but will communicate by telephone in order to give assignments and receive instruction. At 11:30 each week day, we will hold our daily Philosophy class via Zoom conference call.
It was just five days ago that we issued a statement on COVID-19 that indicated we would remain open and teaching. However, things in the United States and in Colorado, in particular, are evolving almost hourly. While no student or staff member has been identified as having COVID-19, the management team determined that the most responsible choice for our staff and students, and the most socially responsible approach, would be to limit travel for our staff and students, and to reduce the number of people in our building (including general meetings at announcements and Philosophy class). Consultations with individual board members occurred over the weekend, and the CCB’s full Board of Directors met on Monday evening via conference call to discuss the plan to move forward with remote learning. The entire board agreed that this was the best step to make at this time. Nonetheless, we will continue teaching and providing structure for our students.
Even as we informed students on Monday and began to map out our teaching strategy in our weekly staff meeting, The CDC, White House and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis were adjusting the limitation on group meetings downward to no more than ten. We can meet that recommendation with this alteration in our teaching structure.
All groups are cancelled at the Center for the near future, as are home visits. Our staff conduct a number of groups at outside locations in an eight-county area, such as senior-living facilities, all of which were cancelled by the facilities themselves by the end of last week. Senior Services staff have been busy since Monday calling every senior active on the caseload to check in, help problem-solve and to identify resources or make referrals. We hope to provide support as we move to a status of increasing isolation for individuals, and so there are a lot of these phone calls to make!
All Youth programs are on hold for the time being. We are still planning on our summer programs beginning in June, however!
Other Steps Taken
- Students were given the option to remain and “shelter in place” in Colorado, or to return to their homes elsewhere. Three chose to leave.
- Beginning last Friday Colorado experienced a panic-induced run on supermarkets. This left some stores too overwhelmed to provide reasonable accommodations to blind shoppers in the form of shopping assistants, not to mention bare shelves. This morning, several of our staff who drive visited supermarkets in the wider south metro area which have been able to restock somewhat, and purchased some basic groceries, such as milk, bread, lunch meat, oatmeal, bananas, and healthy snacks. These were then packaged at our apartments by staff and students and a bag was distributed to each apartment.
- Staff will keep the building at 2233 W. Shepperd Ave. open to receive mail and packages, as all student mail comes here. This includes necessary student prescriptions that come through the mail for many of our students. We’ll deliver mail and any packages near the end of the workday.
- Students will be encouraged to travel outdoors, but to avoid public transportation or ride-shares except for essential travel, such as to the supermarket, medical appointments, etc.
The well-being and safety of our students is our highest concern. If a student has any signs of the virus we will isolate them immediately in a vacant apartment. We will assist the student to obtain testing and if it happens to be positive, we will ensure that the student has what they need in terms of medical treatment or provisions during recovery.
We appreciate all the concern and support for our students and our center. We will continue to provide updates as we move forward.
March 12, 2020
COVID-19 Response, Precautions and Planning
The Colorado Center for the Blind is committed to insuring the health and safety of all students, staff and visitors. So, we daily review recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local health officials to ensure that we are following the latest recommendations for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. We discuss these recommendations and how to implement them every day with staff and students at our morning announcements. These precautions include
- Washing hands often and thoroughly
- Use of hand sanitizer, placed strategically in the building
- Wiping down surfaces and cleaning frequently
- Staying home when sick
- Avoiding shaking hands , embracing and generally maintaining appropriate personal distances
- Covering mouths when sneezing or coughing.
We are currently accepting new referrals and new students continue to arrive. We are a small agency and have 25 to 30 students at a time. As we are small in numbers and thus the risk factors are low, we plan to continue classes as usual, while continuing to monitor risk factors in relation to local conditions.
At this time, no staff or student has been identified or suspected of having COVID-19. In accordance with CDC, state and local health agency recommendations, however, we will implement the following in the event that one or more of our staff or students is suspected of or tests positive for COVID-19, in addition to isolating the individual or individuals with COVID-19:
1. If one individual is identified as having COVID-19, we will close our center for 72 hours and conduct a deep cleaning.
2. If two or more individuals are identified as having COVID-19, we will close the center for two weeks, as well as conducting a deep cleaning.
3. We will maintain close communication with our local health officials throughout.
(Note: The above recommendations are taken from CDC online documents.)
In the event that classes at the center’s main facility are canceled, we will make provisions to continue daily teaching and learning via individual telephone calls and larger zoom workshops with students. We will also insure that our students have everything they need at their apartments and work closely with them to ensure their well-being.
Feel free to contact me if you should have any further questions. My phone number is: 303-778-1130 and my email address is email@example.com