COVID-19 Update: Polis Closes Bars, Clubs Amid Rising Case Numbers

Colorado Governor Jared Polis during an interview with KOAA.
KOAA via YouTube
Colorado Governor Jared Polis during an interview with KOAA.
During a June 30 press conference on the state's ongoing battle against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis announced that he has ordered bars and nightclubs to close in an attempt to prevent the sort of viral spikes that have taken place in states such as Arizona and Texas.

"What we're doing is essentially modifying the guidance for bars to go back to where we were two weeks ago," Polis said. "Our guidance on June 18 allowed bars and nightclubs to open at reduced capacity...but our country and the world has not yet figured out in a pandemic how to do bars and nightclubs safely."

The shutdown edict will look different depending on where such venues are located, Polis stressed. The state is entering into the third phase of its COVID-19 response, dubbed Protect Our Neighbors, which will remain the law until either a vaccine or a cure is developed. Those communities allowed to move into this stage can establish guidelines that could allow bars and nightclubs to reopen if they meet strict standards tailored by and for each jurisdiction. But places that fail to qualify must keep their bars and nightclubs closed, likely for at least the next month.

According to new figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment cited by Polis, there are currently 32,717 cases of the novel coronavirus in the state, including 206 new ones today. "We are experiencing a slight uptick the last two weeks," he explained, noting that only three of the past fourteen days exhibited what he characterized as a "downward trend" in cases.

These increases aren't at a level commensurate with those of Arizona, Utah and other nearby states, Polis acknowledged — but they still carry the risk of bringing Colorado back to the point "where we have widespread contagion...and we don't want to have that kind of setback" given the toll it would take on people's lives and the economy as a whole.

The order concerning bars and clubs, which Polis said was inspired in part by his recent conversations with governors in Texas and Arizona, is partly an attempt to diminish this prospect. Additionally, the closures are meant to let nightlife lovers in those states and others where such venues are temporarily shuttered to understand that restrictions are in place here, too.

"We don't want Colorado to become a mecca of nightlife in the pandemic," Polis said. "We want to make sure we don't stand out as the area where there is unsafe nightlife."

Similarly, Polis repeated recommendations he'd originally delivered during a press conference a week ago concerning Fourth of July celebrations. He urged individuals to mark the nation's birthday with small groups and to watch fireworks displays and the like at a safe distance from others, rather than gathering in large crowds.

Polis's comments about Protect Our Neighbors were supplemented by remarks from a slew of special guests, including Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, and Joni Reynolds and Jason Vahling, public health directors for Gunnison County and the City and County of Broomfield, respectively. They mainly spoke in generalities owing to differing guidelines for each area, but Herlihy offered the best summary of the process, which allows cities and counties to apply individually or as part of regional collectives for variances beginning next week.

"We want to give communities time to plan, assess and get community-wide support before they consider Protect Our Neighbors," Herlihy said. "Some things will remain constant: People with symptoms of COVID-19 or who test positive must isolate as soon as their symptoms start...and they should take preventative actions to limit their risk of getting and spreading COVID-19: wearing masks, frequently washing hands, social distancing."

The initial step for municipalities, Herlihy continued, is that "they first must meet certain scientific metrics that indicate they have sufficient hospital-bed capacity, sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, stable or declining hospitalizations, fewer COVID-19 cases, the ability to implement contact tracing, and a documented search capacity plan for contact tracing." Also required is a backup plan should such places fall out of compliance with Protect Our Neighbors; Herlihy cited potential responses such as "how they will increase mask-wearing and increase flu vaccine intake." All of these situations will be "fluid," she pointed out, "and counties must continue to be vigilant" given that Protect Our Neighbors is "a bold step forward that relies increasingly on individuals and counties taking on more responsibility."

Regarding Polis's closure of bars and nightclubs, Herlihy argued that it made sense since such environments "result in individuals congregating — and one of the features is often loud music. Because of that, individuals tend to be forced closer together and talk more loudly, which helps transmit more virus. With that, I thought the governor's move forward to closing bars in the state was an important strategy to protect the health of Coloradans."

For his part, Polis admitted that he doesn't personally go to bars these days, but said he did in his twenties and recognizes that many folks in that age range love to do so. His goal is to make such activities an option again as soon as possible — "but it won't be statewide in July."