Managing expectations was among the main goals of Governor Jared Polis's April 27 press conference at the State Capitol — an event that marked the beginning of Colorado's safer-at-home phase of response to COVID-19. He stressed that the process moving forward is in keeping with previous statements he's made over the past month or so, and even showed a slide from a March 27 press conference to prove that his messaging hasn't shifted.
"People wanted to think there was even more light at the end of this difficult stay-at-home period than there was," Polis said in reference to the order, which expired yesterday, April 26, for those parts of the state that haven't extended their edicts to May 8, as Denver and several other nearby counties have. "They wanted to think this was the end." That's not the case, he maintained, and despite any confusion, "We've been consistent and transparent about our goals."
After offering his condolences to those who've lost their lives because of the novel coronavirus (695 people in Colorado, according to the latest figure), Polis rolled into a slick, graphic-heavy presentation that spelled out many of the specifics in the new public-health order described in an earlier Westword post. But he also attempted to put into perspective criticism he's received from those who feel the stay-at-home order is ending too soon, as well as officials in Weld County who are upset that it's not being lifted more fully and with fewer restrictions.
"Everyone has their own view of what's happening and what we should do," Polis acknowledged. "All these differing views Coloradans have geographically, politically — all of these views are motivated by genuine care and concern for our loved ones and our community."
He conceded that "there are no easy answers. We've been asked to make sacrifices, and God willing, we should continue to be patient and treat each other with respect and love knowing better days are coming."
As for his decision to let the stay-at-home order expire yet stagger the roll-out of the safer-at-home guidelines (curbside service and real estate showings started again today, many businesses will be able to reopen on May 1, and other operations can start up again with no more than 50 percent of their workforce on-site circa May 4), Polis said he based it on conversations with officials and health-care professionals across the state and remains confident that "this is the best path forward for all of us."
To underscore these points, Polis displayed a series of charts showing that new COVID-19 cases plateaued at around 300 per day between mid-March and mid-April and have declined since then. Cases that had been doubling every day and a half are now showing a daily growth rate of under 10 percent for April and were at 3.8 percent this past Saturday, April 25. Likewise, the growth of daily hospitalization rates has also slowed to just .3 percent on the 25th.
These factors suggest to experts that Colorado "can handle the caseload" now and will be able to do so for the weeks and months ahead, Polis argued — and as a result, the state bought time to obtain supplies and grow testing capacity. The latter will be the subject of his next press conference, on April 29, he pledged.
"The goal was never to eradicate the virus," Polis added — and since extending the stay-at-home order wouldn't have changed the timing of the peak, he felt that ending it would allow people to earn a living without putting more lives at risk. If, that is, people continue to follow safety practices such as social distancing and the wearing of masks in public through May and likely June and July, too.
"This isn't a mission-accomplished moment," he emphasized. "It just means we've avoided a catastrophe. ... But we're far from back to normal. We need to be vigilant — even more so — and to continue to wear masks in public, so we can move safely through this next stage."
Before May is done, Polis continued, "we hope that restaurants can open" — no dates for allowing in-person dining have been set so far — "and we can have more and more ability to do the things that make Colorado special."
Polis also discussed ways in which counties can apply to institute different public-safety rules specifically tailored to their needs. He lauded Eagle and Mesa counties for using procedures appropriately and avoided mentioning Weld County by name when discussing those that haven't, but did say that defiant jurisdictions are breaking the law, jeopardizing their emergency-preparedness grants, putting lives at risk and increasing disruption to businesses and jobs. Moreover, enterprises found to be in violation of the state's order may be issued a cease-and-desist order and could face a revocation of their licenses.
Moments later, Polis supplemented these points by noting, "If there's a store not implementing social distancing, not doing what they need to do to be safe, that store will not only be scaring off their customers, but the state will make sure they're not putting lives at risk." During the stay-at-home phase, there was "no real enforcement," he admitted, but with safer at home, "enforcement is absolutely critical, at the county level or at the business level."
For this reason, he asked Coloradans to be the "eyes and ears" of overburdened law enforcement agencies by reporting businesses that aren't meeting the proper standards to public-health authorities, or to the Colorado Attorney General's Office should local agencies not be responsive.
"If we slack off, if Colorado lets up, if less people are wearing masks in public, if stores aren't being careful about following the guidelines we put out today, then it's likely that additional restrictions might have to come back," Polis warned. "The sacrifices will have been for nothing."