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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the governor's mansion in downtown Denver on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday ordered that alcohol sales in Colorado cease at 10 p.m. in an effort to slow the increasing spread of coronavirus among young people in the state.


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Polis said alcohol has been the common denominator in the spread of coronavirus among Coloradans between 20 and 29 years old, namely at parties and other social gatherings.

The order applies to bars, restaurants and stores that sell alcohol. It goes into effect at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

“You need to do what you can to make sure that we don’t let our judgement lapse on social distancing because we’re inebriated,” Polis said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in Denver. “If you want to get drunk, nobody is saying alcohol causes coronavirus. It doesn’t.”

But the governor suggested that inebriation makes it easier to spread the disease as people let down their guard after having a few drinks.

“The state of inebriation in a public place is inconsistent with social distancing,” Polis said.

Conversely, Polis vowed to push for legislation next year that would end the state’s law requiring alcohol to stop being served at 2 a.m. He said he believes local governments should be able to make the decision for themselves on when restaurants and bars must stop serving liquor, beer and wine.

Teocalli Cocina bartender Tim Knight prepares a to-go cocktail on June 3, 2020. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Restaurant Association didn’t appear reassured by the vow. Sonia Riggs, who leads the group, blasted Polis’ decision.

“We’re extremely disappointed in this order,” she said. “This is a major blow to an industry that is already suffering gravely. We’d like to see the data that backs up this decision, especially as it’s our understanding that restaurants account for just 4% of the outbreaks in this state.”

At least one restauranteur is planning to sue to block the order from going into effect.

Chris Fuselier, who owns Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver, said Polis’ order doesn’t contain “any data or science that selling alcohol after 10 p.m. nightly will help lower COVID cases.” He said on Twitter that the mandate will be “DEVASTATING to restaurants.”

“To stop serving drinks at 10 will kill business that’s already being killed!” Fuselier tweeted.

Polis said Coloradans 20-29 years old are driving the increase in coronavirus cases in Colorado. While they may not face serious consequences after getting sick, people in that age group can pass the disease onto more vulnerable family, friends and coworkers.

“This affects other people,” he said. “We have to make sure we are all in this together.”

The governor said rising cases in other states similarly began with young people. Reversing the trend now, he explained, is critical.

“This is not the summer to party,” Polis added. “… Now is not the time for house parties. Just have four of your besties over.”

The governor’s decision comes as Colorado works to reverse a trend of increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Polis has warned the current trajectory isn’t sustainable and that hospitals could be overwhelmed by September if there isn’t a course correction.

Dr. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who leads the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said 15 counties were notified last week that they are at risk of losing their variances allowing them to loosen restrictions on people’s movement.

Those counties include:

  • Prowers
  • Mineral
  • Grand
  • El Paso 
  • Eagle
  • Pitkin 
  • Garfield
  • Douglas
  • Denver
  • Custer 
  • Chaffee
  • Broomfield
  • Arapahoe
  • Adams 
  • Larimer

Ryan said those counties can act on a mitigation plan over two weeks in order to reverse the spread of the disease and prevent losing their variances. They can also simply choose to instead follow the state’s “safer-at-home” rules.

Eight of the 15 counties have already opted to follow the latter route, but Ryan said she didn’t have a list of those eight counties immediately available on Tuesday.

State health officials say they have not rescinded any variances granted to a Colorado county.

MORE: 10 charts that show why the coronavirus pandemic may be about to get a lot worse in Colorado

“Our early warning system has begun to blink red in a few areas. This is something that we are monitoring closely,” Ryan said. “The spread of the disease is increasing in Colorado and the rate of increase is speeding up.”

Ryan added: “We are at a critical juncture.”

Updated at 10:16 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 2020: This story has been updated with details on when the last-call order goes into effect and with comments from a restauranteur who is planning to sue to stop the mandate.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....