Updated on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 5:46 p.m.: Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order that goes into effect Thursday, March 26, and lasts until at least April 11.
More than 2 million Coloradans will be under a stay-at-home order starting at 8 a.m. Thursday after officials in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties announced public health mandates that follow Denver’s lead.
The orders were unveiled Wednesday morning by Tri-County Public Health, Jefferson County Public Health and Boulder County Public Health. Tri-County oversees public health for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
“The reason for implementing these orders is similar to those that have driven Denver … and, frankly, cities and states across the country,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, told reporters during a conference call. “We do have widespread transmission of COVID-19 throughout parts of Colorado, certainly the metro area and all three of our counties. … We’re aware of community impact, but we strongly believe that by flattening the curve we can begin to reduce the number of people who will get sick from COVID.”
Douglas said there’s a real possibility that if health officials don’t act now, Colorado’s health care system will be overrun by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in a way similar to Italy’s. Time, he emphasized, is of the essence.
“Should we have acted a couple days ago? Maybe. Probably so,” he said. “Do we lose time with each day that we fail to act? I think we do, and that’s why we’re acting today.”
As of Tuesday evening, there were more than 900 people who have tested positive for the virus in Colorado or are considered positive cases because they have symptoms of COVID-19 and are a close contact of someone who has the disease. Experts say many more are likely already infected but have not been tested.
Twelve deaths are attributed to the coronavirus. The disease is known to be present in 35 of Colorado’s 64 counties.
What the orders mandate
The orders unveiled on Wednesday are almost identical to the one issued by Denver on Monday.
Under the public health directives, people still are allowed to leave their homes to walk their pets, get food, seek medical care, take care of relatives, buy alcohol and marijuana, and go outdoors for exercise as long as they are at least 6 feet away from people who don’t live in their households.
Public transit, banks, gas stations, mortuaries and hotels are exempt.
Trips for nonessential retail purchases — like clothing — are not allowed. People also may not leave their homes to go to jobs that are deemed nonessential.
A notable difference between the Denver order and the ones in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties is that licensed gun and ammunition retailers are considered essential business that can stay open. People living in rural communities told public health officials they were worried about protecting livestock from predators, Douglas said Wednesday morning.
Those who disobey the orders can be fined or jailed. In Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties, violating the order is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
But Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown said he was hopeful that social pressure would keep law enforcement from having to get involved.
“There are fines. There (is) the ability for us to enforce these. That’s not our goal,” Brown said. “Our goal is to make sure people are adhering to the order and that we’re trying to get through this as quick as possible.”
Broomfield County said it, too, was enacting a stay-at-home order for the same period as their neighboring counties. Theirs is far less restrictive, however. Health officials in Broomfield warned they could make it a shelter-in-place order if people do not adhere. Larimer County also issued a stay-at-home order effective from 5 p.m. Thursday until April 17.
The combined orders mean the Denver metro area north to the Wyoming border is effectively shut down for at least several weeks. And that was intentional.
MORE: Read the public health orders…
– Jefferson County’s stay-at-home order
– Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties’ stay-at-home order
– Boulder County’s stay-at-home order
– Broomfield County’s stay-at-home order
Calls for governor to act
Polis on Sunday declined to issue a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order as governors in other states have done.
He said the threat of death was more powerful than that of possible jail time or fines in keeping people inside. “What will inspire people to do this, and what will lead people to do this, is not fear of a policeman taking you to jail,” Polis said. “That’s not happening in Chicago. It’s not happening in Seattle. It’s not happening anywhere. It is fear of the Grim Reaper; an informed fear of the death and devastation that this virus can cause.”
Polis, nevertheless, urged Coloradans not to leave their homes unless it’s absolutely necessary. He also applauded Denver’s order and praised other local jurisdictions — like Gunnison, Pitkin and San Miguel counties — that have also enacted stay-at-home directives.
On Wednesday, however, there were growing calls for Polis to reconsider his position and make the orders statewide.
“Citizens in counties run by officials who are taking cues from the Trump White House are in danger. Only you can break through the noise,” state Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, tweeted to Polis.
Douglas, from Tri-County, warned that there could be confusion among people given that there are different rules in different jurisdictions. For instance, people traveling from Denver to Boulder will pass through Broomfield County, where restrictions are different that those of neighboring counties. Also, many people live in counties outside of the Denver area and commute into the city.
“Frankly, (that’s) why 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,” Douglas said.
Douglas said, however, that absent a blanket order from Polis, the health departments in the metro area were using the powers granted to them by Colorado statute to take action on their own.
Conversely, a handful of Republican state lawmakers from Douglas County — including one who has tested positive for the virus — called on their county commissioners to break off from Tri-County Public Health and form a new public health agency as a result of the stay-at-home order.
“Unelected bureaucrats should not have the unilateral authority to simply decide to enact policy that would imprison citizens for 18 months and fine them 5,000,” Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said in a tweet.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday ordered residents to stay home until April 10, and he said other communities in the metro area likely would follow.
Douglas said Denver could extend its order to align with the orders issued Wednesday, or the other counties could cut theirs short if there is evidence the disease is spreading more slowly or if there is evidence of bolstered health care capacity.
Health officials, he said, don’t want to keep people home longer than necessary.