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Colorado governor issues statewide stay-at-home order just days after opting against the mandate

At least 19 deaths have been linked to the coronavirus in Colorado

CENTENNIAL — Gov. Jared Polis said he is issuing a statewide stay-at-home order effective Thursday morning in his latest attempt to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

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The order, unveiled Wednesday afternoon at a news conference, goes into effect Thursday at 6 a.m. and continues until at least April 11.

“All we’re asking is for you to stay at home for as much as possible for the next couple of weeks to buy us the time that we need,” Polis said at a news conference.

“It’s not too late to act now to stay home to save lives,” he said.

The decision to enact the order comes just days after Polis said such a directive was both unenforceable and not right for the state. Instead, on Sunday he issued “guidance” asking Coloradans not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

But pressure has been mounting since then, including from fellow Democrats, for Polis to take more forceful action and issue a stay-at-home directive as governors in an increasing number of U.S. states have done.

Then, on Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a stay-at-home order for his city, saying that action needed to be taken. On Wednesday, the rest of the Denver metro area — including Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas, Larimer and Jefferson counties — followed Hancock’s lead.

Piktin, Gunnison San Miguel and La Plata counties had already issued stay-at-home orders.

MORE: Read the order and an explainer from the governor’s office on the details of the mandate.

Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, in a call with reporters urged Polis to take action. “I think a statewide order could have been and would still be an advantage in terms of working together clearly, effectively and protectively as health care resources,” he said.

The order is the most significant step Polis has taken since he began limiting Coloradans’ movements in an attempt to make a dent in the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He announced the stay-at-home directive just minutes after the deaths tied to the coronavirus in Colorado hit at least 19 and the number of confirmed cases surpassed 1,000.

MORE: At least 19 deaths in Colorado linked to coronavirus as confirmed cases exceed 1,000

“We’re issuing the stay-at-home order to save lives,” he said. “… We have real data that of the measures that we’ve taken — with regard to closing bars and closing restaurants, with regard to closing salons and now with regard to the 50% reduction in the workforce — has had a positive effect on increasing social distancing and decreasing social interactions. However, it has not had (the) sufficient effect that is needed to reduce the spread of the virus such that we have the time that we need.”

Polis said that time will give the health care system the ability to prepare for a surge in coronavirus patients. If infected people show up at hospitals all at once, the results, officials have said, could be catastrophic.

What the order does

The order generally requires Coloradans to stay home unless they need to leave for necessary business reasons or to get food, exercise or seek medical care.

Businesses deemed “critical” are exempt. They must, however, adhere to strict social distancing measures. Critical businesses, activities and sites include:

  • Hospitals, pharmacies, veterinarians and other health care providers
  • Utilities, oil and gas production operations, transportation infrastructure, hotels, and restaurants and bars offering takeout and delivery
  • Grocery stores, gas stations, gun stores, liquor stores, marijuana shops, banks, auto supply and repair businesses, and child care centers
  • The news media
  • Visits to family members or other loved ones who need help or medical care
A lone pedestrian hustles across Broadway near the normally bustling Civic Center Station in downtown Denver on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Anyone who violates the order faces up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

On Sunday, Polis said stay-at-home and similar shelter-in-place orders could not be enforced. “No matter the way that these are being explained to people, there is no civil law enforcement authority that is in a position in any city or state to enforce these,” he said.

When asked on Wednesday about whether these comments send a conflicting message about the new order, Polis sidestepped the question.

“I think the people care most about their lives and the lives of their loved ones,” he said. “That’s why we are making an appeal to do the right thing, just as in World War II families did the right thing in melting down their household appliances, farmers turning in their farm equipment.”

18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, complained in a tweet that Polis should have coordinated with local law enforcement before issuing the order.

The Fox Theater in Montrose is closed as life in Colorado shuts down in response to the new coronavirus. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
The economic impact

It’s likely the stay-at-home order will further hurt Colorado’s economy, which has already been deeply damaged by the coronavirus outbreak. Thousands have filed unemployment claims and Polis has warned that the situation will worsen.

The governor has said his aim is to pay an economic price now in the hopes of staving off a calamity down the road if scores more people were to get sick or die.

Polis has said the restrictions need to be lifted as soon as possible to prevent further economic damage. He’s already taken steps to try to prepare Colorado for a bounce back once the outbreak ends, which he admits could take months.

Polis also said Wednesday he’s asked President Donald Trump to declare Colorado a major disaster area to secure more funding and resources. “I call upon President Trump to grant this immediately,” he said.

County-by-county orders could confuse

Polis’ stay-at-home order creates a mosaic of public health directives across cities and counties in Colorado.

His mandate takes priority, but local jurisdictions can also impose more strict policies if they see fit. And Polis says he supports those efforts.

The stay at home orders end depending on the different counties.

  • Denver’s is in effect until at least April 10
  • Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Boulder and Jefferson counties’ is in effect until April 17

MORE: Colorado hospitals are preparing their doctors and nurses for an all-hands-on-deck coronavirus fight

Each county’s order may also contain different restrictions or exemptions.

“We are encouraging local health departments to do what they need to do with regards to the situation on the ground,” he said. “What we really want to say, unambiguously, is: Stay at home. … It’s not too late to act now — to stay home, to save lives.”

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