"Everyone, please stay home. Please only go out for essential services. Maybe put up holiday decorations. But stay home."
With these words, shared during a November 20 press conference, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made it clear how much is riding on the next few weeks in the Mile High City's fight against COVID-19. At 5 p.m. today, Denver will enter Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard — a designation that will result in a number of serious new restrictions but falls short of a complete lockdown. Nonetheless, Hancock stressed that people should only leave their homes when absolutely necessary and otherwise hunker down for at least the next thirty days.
The reason? Denver will remain at Level Red until at least Friday, December 18, Hancock said, and could linger at this status for longer if data related to the novel coronavirus doesn't moderate over that span.
"Colorado has made a new top-ten list," he noted. "We have the sixth-highest increase in cases and hospitalizations. This says something. For much of the country and the world, we're seeing the virus come back with a vengeance."
Nonetheless, Hancock sees politicians in Washington, D.C., wasting opportunities to act responsibly. He asserted that "an absence of a coordinated national response is forcing states, counties and cities to act on their own, and the refusal of Congress to help is simply shameful." He added, "At a time of national crisis, the fact that some elected officials are chasing conspiracy theories about the election undermines democracy, and debating masks is simply politicking." Quoting a comment made by a nurse who appeared on a news broadcast he saw this morning, Hancock asked, "Would you rather wear a mask or have a tube put down your throat?"
Among the Level Red rules that Hancock highlighted were new requirements that offices operate with only 10 percent of the workforce on site, and less if possible. Gyms will also be limited to 10 percent capacity, and all indoor events are off for the duration of the order. Likewise, indoor dining at restaurants is temporarily closed, although outdoor patio seating is allowed — but there will be an 8 p.m. last call. Otherwise, eateries must again focus on curbside pick-up and delivery, which can happen after 8 p.m.
Additionally, retail stores can continue to operate at 50 percent capacity, which Hancock said was important because of the desire to do holiday shopping. But he strongly recommended against the urge to enjoy Thanksgiving with members of different households, and suggested that people "maybe get a small turkey this year and celebrate with just those you live with, then Zoom with your extended family and tell them you look forward to seeing them real soon."
After the release and distribution of vaccines, "maybe next year we can get together again," he said.
"I know you hate this. I hate this. But we're doing the best we can to avoid a complete shutdown of our economy...to protect lives and our livelihoods."
Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald reiterated many of Hancock's points during an appearance of his own, and teased a new testing site coming soon to Ruby Hill Park that he hopes will help speed up a process that had been moving quickly until recent weeks, when wait times increased substantially. He also defended the move away from using the Pepsi Center as a testing hub, noting that sites located in neighborhoods more accessible to vulnerable communities has resulted in a 40 percent testing increase among those who identify as Latinx and a threefold bump for Black residents.
In a question-and-answer session, Hancock and McDonald said that staff shortages don't appear to have compromised the ability of local police and fire department personnel to do their jobs, and that hospitals aren't yet overwhelmed. But their warnings overall make it clear that a lot of bad things can happen over the next month or more if the epidemiological curve isn't bent in a better direction — starting now.