On the evening of April 26, mere hours before the expiration of Colorado's stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19, the office of Governor Jared Polis released new rules for what it's dubbed the "Safer at Home" phase that the state entered early April 27, as well as new rules for elective surgery and the creation of the New Normal Advisory Board, which will offer advice about how to maximize social distancing in the near future.
Here's what you need to know.
The end of the state's stay-at-home order doesn't mean the restrictions related to it have ended everywhere within its borders. Last week, Denver announced the extension of its order through May 8 — an action echoed by Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties. For the rest of the state, safer-at-home guidelines will roll out over the next week. Here are the key dates, along with summaries from the governor's office of major changes from the stay-at-home directive:
Monday, April 27
Retail businesses can open for curbside delivery. Real estate home showings can resume. Voluntary or elective medical, dental, and veterinary surgeries and procedures may resume if facilities are following required safety protocols.
Friday, May 1
Retail businesses can phase-in a public opening if they are implementing best practices. Personal services can open if they are implementing best practices.
Monday, May 4
Offices can reopen at 50 percent reduced in-person staffing capacity, if best practices are being implemented to protect the health and safety of employees. Businesses are encouraged to allow employees to continue telecommuting at higher levels if possible. Child care facilities can also expand or reopen if they are following Safer at Home requirements.
The "Safer at Home" order is by far the most detailed and wide-ranging of the new documents. It begins by confirming that "normal in-person instruction at all P-12 schools in Colorado will be suspended until the scheduled end of the 2019-2020 regular school year. P-12 schools and school districts may use school buildings for providing services to students, educators, and families, including but not limited to: in-person small group instruction; staff professional development; food service; access to internet, devices, or instructional materials; special education services; or mental health supports. P-12 schools and school districts intending to provide these services must work in coordination with their local public health agency and must observe Social Distancing Requirements pursuant to applicable public health orders."
The Colorado Department of Higher Education is also directed to identify "those programs and courses at post-secondary institutions that cannot be taught remotely and require limited in-person instruction."
All of those identified as "vulnerable individuals" are told to continue staying at home "except when necessary to provide, support, perform, or operate Necessary Activities, Minimum Basic Operations, Critical Government Functions, Necessary Travel, or Critical Businesses, provided that Vulnerable Individuals cannot be compelled to perform in-person work for any business or government function, including a Critical Business or Critical Government Function."
The vulnerable-individuals categories include:
1. Individuals who are 65 years and older;
2. Individuals with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
3. Individuals who have serious heart conditions;
4. Individuals who are immunocompromised;
5. Pregnant women; and
6. Individuals determined to be high risk by a licensed healthcare provider.
The next sections of the order include exhortations for people who are sick or test positive for COVID-19 to stay at home; for employers to do their best to find telecommuting options for workers; for the Colorado Civil Rights Division to prevent discrimination; and for the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue an amended public-health order that must include advice about wearing "non-medical face coverings that cover the nose and mouth whenever in public" and mandates regarding limits on social interactions, travel and public gatherings of ten or more.
Non-critical retail can permit customers onto their premises as of May 1 only if they practice "strict compliance with mandatory Social Distancing Requirements similar to the requirements for Critical Retail." The same goes for "Non-Critical Commercial Businesses" that can operate at 50 percent capacity as of May 4. Moreover, "Critical Businesses, Critical Government Functions, Non-Critical Commercial Businesses, and Non-Critical Retail with over fifty employees in any one location" must follow protocols that include but are not limited to "symptom screening and temperature check stations, closure of common areas, cleaning protocols, and Mandatory Social Distancing Requirements."
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's executive director is told to "cover individuals returning to work under this Executive Order and to extend paid sick leave coverage to up to two-thirds pay for fourteen days if a worker has tested positive for COVID-19, has COVID-like symptoms, or has been directed to quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 concerns." Guidance must ensure that "workers, and particularly workers who are Vulnerable Individuals, are not in danger of losing unemployment insurance eligibility for refusal to return to COVID-19-related demonstrable, unsafe working conditions."
According to the elective surgery order: "Medical, dental, or veterinary voluntary or elective surgeries and procedures may resume as long as the healthcare facility, clinic, office or practice, surgical center, hospital, or other setting where health care services are provided follows protocols and criteria set forth in this Executive Order and any accompanying Public Health Order (PHO) issued by CDPHE." Furthermore, "facilities performing medical, dental or veterinary voluntary or elective surgeries and procedures shall establish a plan to reduce or stop voluntary or elective surgeries and procedures if there is a surge of COVID-19 infections in the county or municipality in which the Facility is located. CDPHE will determine the conditions that constitute a surge."
The facilities must share data with the CDPHE and the State Emergency Operations Center concerning the use of personal protective equipment. Among outlined best practices are "prioritization of voluntary or elective surgeries and procedures based on indication and urgency or whether the continued delay will have an adverse medical outcome for the patient; consideration of the risks and benefits for patients or pet owners who are Vulnerable Individuals...; implementation of online payment and billing when possible; providing staff with individual workspaces and equipment to avoid sharing desks and work tools or if these surfaces or items must be shared, ensure frequent disinfection; prescreening patients or pets and their owners for COVID-19 symptoms by telehealth if possible; and consideration of the ongoing postponement of voluntary or elective surgeries and procedures that are expected to require the following resources: 1. Transfusion; 2. Pharmaceuticals or PPE in short supply; 3. Intensive Care Unit admission; and 4. Transfer to a skilled nursing facility or inpatient rehabilitation center."
That's a lot of new information to digest, and it may not last long. The orders are set to expire thirty days from today, April 27, unless they're extended or superseded by new edicts. At a press conference scheduled for later today, Polis is expected to elaborate on the new safer-at-home rules.