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Colorado governor extends statewide stay-at-home order until at least April 26 in unprecedented speech

The live TV address was the first in recent memory for a Colorado governor, according to top aides in prior administrations, and possibly the only of its kind in state history

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers an address from the governor's mansion in Denver on April 6, 2020. Polis said that the state of Colorado will extend a statewide stay-at-home order from April 11 through April 26 due to coronavirus. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)
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Gov. Jared Polis announced he is extending Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order until at least April 26 in an unprecedented televised speech to the entire state on Monday night during which he urged residents to continue making sacrifices to keep the new coronavirus from spreading out of control.

“The reason for the April 26 date is simple: because the data and the science tells us that staying at home is our best chance, our only realistic chance, to avoid a catastrophic loss of life — the deaths of thousands of our friends, our neighbors, our family members,” Polis said.

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Polis, speaking to Coloradans from the governor’s mansion for about 17 minutes, said he knows that many in the state are frustrated and angry as they try to weather the crisis caused by the new coronavirus. The extension is surely to prolong the economic pain being felt by many in Colorado as it means restaurants and bars, theaters and sporting venues, ski areas and malls will have to remain closed.

“We all want a timeline,” he said. “When will this nightmare be over.”

It’s been more than a month since the first cases of coronavirus in Colorado were announced on March 6

Colorado now has reported 150 deaths attributed to coronavirus, and more than 5,000 confirmed cases, though health officials say there are likely actually between 17,000 and 18,000 Coloradans who are or have been infected. Nearly 1,000 of those with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are hospitalized and there are outbreaks in at least 41 nursing homes and senior care centers. 

Those facilities have driven the state’s coronavirus deaths. Through Monday, nine people had died at the Centennial Healthcare Center alone, a Greeley senior care center owned by SavaSeniorCare, which operates 25 facilities in Colorado.

“If too many people get seriously ill at once from this virus, our health care system simply will not have the capacity to handle the flood of sick patients,” Polis said.

The decision to extend the stay-at-home order comes as state public health officials rejected projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington that were widely shared on Monday showing that Colorado has already passed its peak when it comes to impact on the health care system.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was emphatic that the estimates weren’t accurate because they are built on false premises and do not take into account a host of factors, including the state’s demographics and detailed infection data. 

Modeling from University of Colorado experts shows the situation as being more dire.  “We are certain our peak has not hit,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who runs the CDPHE.

As for when the peak will come, that’s uncertain, the state health department said. Projections have shown it happening anytime between later on this month and July. 

Polis’ statewide stay-at-home order, which went into effect on March 26, was originally set to expire on April 11. He has been warning for days that he was likely to extend it.

On Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock went even further than Polis by extending his city’s stay-at-home order until at least April 30. Even President Donald Trump has recommended that people stay inside until the end of the month.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters about the new coronavirus on Sunday, March 22, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The economic impacts of the restrictions put in place by Polis have been severe. More than 120,000 people through the end of last week had filed unemployment claims as the restaurant, tourism and hospitality sectors have been temporarily eliminated. Meanwhile, the state’s oil and gas industry is in distress because of plummeting oil prices. 

Polis appeared to lay blame at the feet of Trump and his administration’s slow response to the virus.

“I am beyond furious that we have been forced to shut down large portions of our economy — putting tens of thousands of people out of a job — because as the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth, we still don’t have access to the supplies and testing we need to mount a proper, more targeted response,” Polis said. “I know that we would all rather be going back to work tomorrow instead of collecting government stimulus checks or unemployment insurance. I know that business owners will have to make even harder decisions this month. I know we all want this to end as soon as possible.”

He added: “But if the choice is between a temporary shutdown and a catastrophic loss of life, the choice is clear. These closures and restrictions will be temporary. But when you lose a life, you lose it forever.”

Polis said if he is able to end the stay-at-home order earlier he will. Conversely, if he must extend it even further, he will go that route.

Moxi Theater owner Ely Corliss sits on the stage of the downtown Greeley nightclub moments after he learned Gov. Polis had shut down all in-person drinking and dining and gatherings of more than 10 people for a month to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Colorado. (Valerie Vampola, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“The better job we do of staying in, the sooner we will be able to go back out,” Polis said. “I know this isn’t easy, but if we all do our part, we can beat this virus and get back to living our lives.”

During the rest of his speech, Polis mostly reiterated what he’s been saying for weeks about the economic impact of the virus, how to slow its spread and encouragement to Coloradans that they stay strong. He didn’t offer new details about the state of the state’s battle against the pandemic or what the days and weeks ahead will look like.

“I know Coloradans are hurting and this is no ordinary emergency,” he said. “This April will always be known as the lost month.”

MORE: How the closure of two Vail restaurants shows coronavirus’ domino effect on the food-service economy

“Something we’ve never done before”

The live TV address was the first in recent memory for a Colorado governor, top aides in prior administrations said, and possibly the only of its kind in state history.

Polis has been holding three-times weekly media briefings on the coronavirus outbreak streamed live online for roughly the past three weeks. They have been widely watched and disseminated. 

But the presidential-style address allowed Polis to reach a much broader audience. “This kicks it up a notch,” said Tim Wieland, news director for CBS4 in Denver. 

Wieland has worked at the news station on and off since the early 1990s and said an address like the one on Monday is “something we’ve never done before.”

“I certainly can’t remember a governor doing this,” Wieland said.

 The Colorado Sun and other reporters were prohibited from attending the speech in person.

MORE: Colorado unveils plan for how doctors will decide who receives life-saving coronavirus treatment — and who doesn’t

Led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic governors like Polis are emerging as counter-programming to Trump. 

Early in the crisis, Polis applauded White House efforts, but now he’s emerged as a prominent critic of the lack of federal help with personal protective equipment and disease testing.

He is taking his message to cable TV shows (the governor has set up a makeshift studio in his Boulder home for that very purpose) and garnered national headlines over the weekend for his decision to don a face mask after the president said he wouldn’t wear one.

On Friday, in an interview on CNN, he took Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency to task for buying ventilators that Colorado was hoping to purchase. “We can’t compete against our own federal government,” he said. “So either work with us or don’t do anything at all, But this middle ground where they are buying stuff out from under us and not telling us what we’re going to get, that’s really challenging.”

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Dick Wadhams, an adviser to Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who saw Colorado through the Columbine shooting and Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Polis is smart to talk to the state.

“This is different than anything we’ve ever seen in Colorado because the public has to be so engaged in dealing with this,” Wadhams said.

The address also comes at a moment in which the Polis administration is facing increased scrutiny for a lack of transparency regarding the data behind the disease’s spread in Colorado. Republican lawmakers — along with the news media — are pressing for more information about COVID-19 deaths and the most affected areas.

“The confidence our citizens depend on to trust their governments actions and the long-term health of our economy must be addressed,” two dozen Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to Polis on Monday. 

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