Gov. Jared Polis on Monday revealed what life may be like in Colorado starting next week, when his statewide stay-at-home order expires, preparing the public for a “marathon” of restrictions likely to last for months in order to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading out of control.
When the stay-at-home order ends April 26, on Sunday, the main difference will be that Coloradans will be urged, rather than ordered, to stay in.
Polis is calling this new phase Colorado’s “safer-at-home” period.
About half the workforce will be able to return to their jobs the first week of May, Polis said, but employers are urged to continue to allow telecommuting if possible. Workplaces that do reopen will have to abide by strict guidelines, including checking the temperature of employees as they enter the building.
Retail will first open to curbside delivery and then be allowed to gradually open with strict precautions.
Hair salons, tattoo parlors, dog groomers and personal trainers will be allowed to resume services, but also with stringent social distancing measures.
Restaurants and bars will still be closed to in-person dining — at least at first — and schools will remain shuttered.
But the governor was clear: “If you can stay at home, continue to stay at home.”
People in vulnerable populations — those age 60 or older and people with preexisting conditions — are urged to continue as if they stay-at-home order were still in effect.
“We need to figure out how we can run the marathon now that we’ve run the sprint,” he said. “I hate to break it to you, but the easy part was the sprint. Now we need to pace ourselves and figure out how we can live our lives, support ourselves, be able to work, be able to shop and do some of the things we love. But do it in a way that’s different and has a lot less social interaction.”
Detailed guidance on how the state will begin to reopen is expected to be released in the coming days. Polis on Monday only described the plan in broad strokes.
The governor’s staff also cautioned that his preview Monday of what things will look like moving forward could change.
Restaurants may be able to have a phased reopening in mid May, Polis said, but that prospect is still under exploration. Gatherings of more than 10 people still will be prohibited.
Polis said that cities and counties across Colorado will be able to implement more stringent restrictions to respond to an outbreak. “In a big diverse state there should not be one statewide approach.”
Restrictions will be changed to ensure the health care system isn’t overwhelmed, Polis said. “This will all be adjusted in real time.”
There are more than 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Colorado, but public health officials believe there may be some 75,000 people in the state who have been infected.
About 450 people have died from the disease. More than 1,000 people with confirmed cases of the disease are currently hospitalized.
“We’ve stopped that exponential growth curve that would have overwhelmed our hospitals,” he said. “We now have to figure out how to make this sustainable and create a sustainable way of life for the future.”
Polis said that he plans to be in Eagle County on Thursday or Friday to grant the county an exemption before the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted because of the progress health officials have made in limiting the spread of coronavirus.
Eagle County was one of the areas hardest hit by coronavirus. But in recent days its caseload has dropped.
How to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed
Polis and state public health officials believe Colorado can begin to carefully reopen without overwhelming the public health system because of modeling from the University of Colorado’s school of public health.
The modeling shows that Colorado’s intensive care unit capacity won’t be breached as long as:
- Coloradans can maintain a level of social distancing at about 65%
- Mask wearing continues
- Testing and containment efforts are bolstered
- Older and at-risk people continue to stay at home
The best approach, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said, is “where we use a combination of strategies to really decrease the amount of transmission that is occurring in our state and ensure that we’re not going to exceed our health care capacity.”
But the modeling shows that even a slightly lower rate of social distancing — say 45% — could overwhelm hospitals.
Right now, the state estimates that under the statewide stay-at-home order, compliance with social distancing rules is about 75% to 80% .
Polis said people who normally have 10 daily social interactions need to shrink that to four “in May, in June, however long it lasts.”
“We need the will to sustain it in the coming months. Our success will be indicated by our individual responsibility,” Polis said. “I trust the people of Colorado to make good choices.”
Testing continues to be problematic in Colorado, as it does across the nation. Polis said the state is working every day to expand screening capacity, and plans are underway to hire more epidemiologists and use technology to track infected people and their contacts.