Gov. Jared Polis on Monday ordered the closure of all Colorado restaurants and bars to in-person dining in a dramatic effort to slow the new coronavirus as it rapidly spreads across the state.
The order, effective at 8 a.m. Tuesday, lasts for 30 days, but is renewable. It also mandates that gyms, casinos and theaters, including movie theaters, be closed.
“Our hearts go out to the 240,000 employees who are in the food and beverage industry,” Polis said in a news conference at the state Capitol.
He said the decision to enact the order was difficult, but necessary.
“These steps are very painful for our state,” Polis said. “They may be an inconvenience to you if you’re a customer. Imagine how difficult they are for the workers and the owners of those facilities, many of whom will have a tough time remaining viable. The workers, who will lose their jobs.”
The order came after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and several mountain communities — including Gunnison, Summit and San Miguel counties — made the same decision for their cities and counties just hours earlier in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Denver order is set to last eight weeks.
Take out and delivery are still allowed under the orders.
“You don’t want to be pennywise and pound foolish,” Polis said. “If you try to squeeze a few more days or a week of business into bars and clubs, you’d be looking at a much longer absolute closure and more drastic measures as a result of the lack of foresight that we hope we are showing by taking these actions today.”
Gunnison and Summit counties, which have been among the hardest hit by the virus, went so far as to order the closure of lodging businesses, including hotels, motels, timeshares and short-term rentals. They’re also shutting down non-essential businesses.
“The only retail locations permitted to remain open will be banks, grocery stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, pharmacies and gas stations,” Summit County said in a news release Monday.
On Sunday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment warned recent visitors to and residents of Summit, Gunnison, Eagle and Pitkin counties to limit their contact with others because the virus is spreading so quickly in those areas. That’s even if those people are not showing symptoms.
“There is widespread community transmission in Eagle County,” Scott Bookman, Colorado’s coronavirus incident commander and the leader of the state’s public health lab, told reporters on Monday.
Non-essential businesses could be next
Colorado is following other states across the country — including Illinois and Ohio — which have already ordered the closure of their restaurants and bars.
Polis has said he hoped to avoid such significant actions, but that he wouldn’t hesitate to use his broad powers under an emergency declaration issued last week should they become necessary.
Over the weekend, he issued his first executive order shutting down businesses with a Saturday night demand that the state’s ski areas close for at least a week.
Polis made the decision about restaurants and bars after members of a state committee that advises him on how to respond to the epidemic recommended Monday that the governor issue a sweeping order to close them all statewide. The Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, or GEEERC, also recommended that gyms, casinos and theaters, including movie theaters, be closed.
The GEEERC also is looking into how to define essential vs. non-essential businesses, setting the stage for it to recommend that non-essential businesses should be shuttered as soon as this week.
Polis sat in on the meeting — which was conducted virtually, via telephone and Google Hangouts.
“The rest, I think you need to do more work on and bring back in a few days when we figure out what’s in and what’s out,” Polis told the committee, referring to the debate over essential and non-essential businesses.
When asked Monday by The Colorado Sun about how close the state is to shutting down non-essential businesses, Polis sidestepped the question. Instead he urged people not to panic-buy, assuring the public that stores won’t run out of the things they need to survive.
The exact economic impact of Polis’ order is unknown, but it’s expected to be swift and broad. There are thousands of servers and bartenders across Colorado who could soon be out of a job, compounding on job losses in other sectors, like tourism.
“Are employers going to hold off on laying off individuals? Are they going to reduce hours?” said Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Senior Economist Ryan Gedney. “Certainly it’s expected (unemployment) claims will rise. Just how much, at this point, is unknown.”
The oil and gas industry is also struggling because of the outbreak and other market forces. CLDE is expecting the situation to mirror what happened a few years ago when oil prices plunged and scores of workers in Denver lost their jobs.
Right now, oil prices are trading in the range of $30 a barrel, having dropped by more than half since the start of the year.
“What we saw in 2015, 2016, that definitely had a massive impact on that industry,” Gedney said. “There were a lot of layoffs and big job losses. So if oil stays at that level for an extended period of time, I would expect maybe something similar.”
Also on Monday, Hancock said the Denver Sheriff Department would cease serving eviction notices and stop jailing certain low-level offenders in response to the viral outbreak. He also ordered the cancellation of any events of 50 people or more and said no new ones may be planned for sooner than May 11.
Governments across the state are limiting how many people can gather.
“We’re chasing the ghost”
State health officials on Monday afternoon also announced that the state’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases has jumped to 160. Twenty people are hospitalized.
Colorado has completed test results on 1,200 people since Feb. 28, but many are still pending.
“We know there are likely thousands more (infected people) in the state of Colorado,” Polis said, noting that many people either haven’t been tested yet or are not showing symptoms.
Polis called the virus a “ghost” that’s been difficult to chase.
“What is so frustrating about this virus is we are always, from a data perspective, chasing where it was three to five days ago,” Polis said. “We are doing our best to extrapolate, to predict, to use modeling. But the data is trailing.”
The goal is to get ahead of what officials believe is a a crush of patients.
“We are looking at the number of people who have tested positive, the likely people who’ve been exposed and then that lag time of seven to 10 days before the people who were exposed in the last few days might require hospitalization — for the 15 to 20% that do,” Polis said.
Polis said the state is looking at empty buildings where they can set up cots and temporary overflow facilities if necessary. He said the outbreak will last months.
“The more seriously we take this public health emergency, the better we can weather the storm and get through this crisis with as little loss of life and as little damage to our economy as possible.”