On July 7, Wallethub, a website based in Washington, D.C., released a study ranking Colorado as the second-most-restrictive state in the country — behind only California — in terms of policies put in place to fight COVID-19.
This finding contradicted the narrative promoted by Governor Jared Polis that the state is opening up as quickly as possible while maintaining the maximum amount of safety under challenging circumstances. It also provided fuel for critics who've dubbed Polis a "virus overlord" and accused him of picking winners and losers among businesses during the pandemic by, for example, shutting down bars and nightclubs statewide just weeks after allowing them to reopen on a limited basis.
The governor's office clearly takes the potential impact of the study seriously: Staffers conducted a detailed breakdown of the data and contacted Wallethub to suggest that Colorado's ranking on the list was inaccurate.
"It looks like there were a handful of policy updates that may have not made it into the analysis, and I think the actual ranking of Colorado is significantly different," Polis press secretary Conor Cahill says in an email to Westword. "We’ve run the criteria through our policy team to get clarity, and we've suggested some updates to them worth making to not cause public confusion."
Wallethub isn't going along. According to an email from communications manager Diana Polk, "We received this communication, but the ranking will remain the same."
Colorado's overall ranking of 50 out of 51 (Washington, D.C., is included along with the fifty states) was based on a complex methodology that Wallethub included in the report of its study (see that methodology below). The state scored above-average numbers in four of six major categories, which pushed it close to the top on the list of states getting tough on the virus (lower numbers correspond to less restrictive measures):
Workplace Temperature Screening: 47
Travel Restrictions: 15
Large Gatherings Restrictions: 37
Strictness of "Shelter in Place" Order: 43
Reopening of Non-Essential Businesses: 23
Reopening of Restaurants and Bars: 38
In reporting Wallethub's results, we noted that Colorado's restrictions differ from place to place thanks to variances already granted to numerous municipalities that allow local officials to ease assorted restrictions based on their specific conditions. We also pointed out that such exceptions are expected to expand under the Protect Our Neighbors program, which is being rolled out this week.
Cahill takes note of those exceptions, too. The Wallethub study "does not account for the 78 variances the state health department has granted," he says. "The majority of our counties are actually under local variances that offer far greater flexibility than what’s captured in this scale. That seems important to somehow be factored in, which it currently is not."
In a response sent to Wallethub, the governor's office took issue with the study's assessment in other areas, too:
• "The Executive Order that closed schools expired at the end of June and was not extended, meaning the closure order was lifted. It looks like [they’ve] scored Colorado as a '0,' but Colorado actually had an order that was lifted when the Executive Order expired. As such, Colorado is a '.5.'"
• "The State’s restaurant guidance asks establishments to post signage notifying patrons and employees of hygiene and sanitation expectations, including not entering if they are experiencing symptoms, but it seems like a stretch to say that this is requiring a symptom monitoring protocol. Colorado should be a '1' not a '0' for this measure."
• "Colorado has lifted the Stay at Home order. We still recommend that those with high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 maintain higher social distancing, but this is not a requirement. We believe Colorado should be a '.9' not a '.7.'"
• "As a separate branch of government, the courts largely regulate themselves. We designated the courts as a critical government function, so they were never closed. Colorado should be a '1' not a '0' here."
In his message to Westword, Cahill adds: "It looks like we can’t see the actual scores for travel restrictions, restaurants and assisted living facilities. The State has some fairly nuanced policy for those, and so might be worth digging into together. But even the four changes listed would have a pretty big impact on the score and help establish more accurate public expectations."
Polk says that she has replied to the governor's office, "listing the sources for our data. These are all official sources where data is available for all of the states. We use these types of sources especially to ensure the validity of our studies." (Click to see that data on the Restaurant Law Center, KFF.org and Ballotpedia.org.) Polk also sent Polis's office an Excel file with additional data from the National Governors Association.
Wallethub analyst Jill Gonzalez offered this explanation for the Colorado ranking with the initial study release: "The state requires workplace temperature screening and quarantine for high-risk groups. It also prohibits visitation of assisted living facilities, and requires staff screening in these facilities, as well as personal protective equipment for personnel. Considering that Colorado has lowered its COVID-19 death rate since the start of the pandemic, it seems that authorities are doing what's needed to keep the spreading of the virus under control and protect residents."
Here's the methodology for that study:
In order to identify the states that have the fewest coronavirus restrictions, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 18 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the fewest restrictions.
We then determined the weighted average across all metrics to calculate an overall score for each state and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Requirement to Wear a Face Mask in Public: Double Weight (~6.78 Points)
Note: This metric measures the presence or absence of state action requiring residents to wear a face mask in public.
1 – No state action on public face coverings;
0.5 – State requires the use of face coverings for certain employees;
0.25 – State allows local officials to require the use of public face coverings for the general public;
0 – Face coverings required for the general public.
Travel Restrictions: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This composite metric measures state Employee Restricted Travel enactment and Domestic Travel Limitations.
Employee Restricted Travel:
1 – State never had Employee Restricted Travel;
0.5 – State had but lifted Employee Restricted Travel;
0 – State has Employee Restricted Travel.
Domestic Travel Limitations:
1 – State never had Domestic Travel Limitations;
0.75 – State had imposed but lifted Domestic Travel Limitations;
0.5 – State has recommended Domestic Travel Limitations;
0 – State has imposed Domestic Travel Limitations by executive order.
Military Travel Restrictions: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This composite metric measures state Military Restricted Travel enactment:
1 – State had but lifted restrictions for Military Travel;
0 – State has not lifted restrictions for Military Travel.
Large Gatherings Restrictions: Triple Weight (~10.17 Points)
Note: This composite metric measures the presence or absence of policies that have banned large gatherings in a state.
1 – State never banned large gatherings;
0.8 – State had banned large gatherings but lifted all restrictions;
0.6 – State has expanded gatherings limit to over 25 participants;
0.4 – State has expanded gatherings limit to 25 participants or below 25 participants;
0.2 – State has banned gatherings of 5 or 10 participants or more;
0 – State has banned all gatherings.
Statewide School Restart: Double Weight (~6.78 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has ordered/recommended the closure of all public schools.
1 – State recommended closure;
0.5 – State had but lifted order to close;
0 – State has ordered closure.
Reopening of Restaurants and Bars: Quadruple Weight (~13.56 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has imposed mandatory closings of restaurants and bars to the public.
1 – State Has Never Closed Restaurants due to COVID-19;
0.75 – State Had Closed but fully re-opened restaurants;
0.5 – State had closed but reopened for limited dine-in service with capacity limits;
0.25 – Limited dine-in service;
0 – Closed except for takeout/delivery or newly closed to dine-in service.
1 – State has never closed bars due to COVID-19;
0.75 – State had closed but fully re-opened bars;
0 – Closed or newly closed.
State Guidance on Customer Health Checks at Restaurants: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This metric refers to whether states have issued guidance on customer health checks at restaurants.
1 – No requirement or recommendation for customer health checks at restaurants;
0 – Some form of requirement or recommendation for customer health checks at restaurants.
Reopening of Non-Essential Businesses: Double Weight (~6.78 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has imposed mandatory closings of non-essential businesses to the public.
1 – States that have never closed non-essential businesses;
0.8 – All non-essential businesses have fully reopened;
0.6 – Certain non-essential businesses reopened;
0.4 – Certain non-essential businesses opened or have been reopened with reduced capacity;
0.2 – Certain non-essential businesses are closed;
0 – All non-essential businesses are closed.
Legislation on Business Immunity from COVID-19 Claims: Double Weight (~6.78 Points)
Note: This metric measures the presence or absence of state action regarding legislation for ensuring businesses immunity against liability for any harm caused by COVID-19.
1 – State enacted legislation granting businesses immunity;
0.5 – State pending legislation granting businesses immunity;
0 – State hasn’t passed laws giving business immunity.
Workplace Temperature Screening: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has required or recommended workplace temperature screening.
1 – Workplace temperature screening is not required;
0.75 – Workplace temperature screening is recommended for specified employers;
0.5 – Workplace temperature screening is recommended;
0.25 – Workplace temperature screening is required for specified employers;
0 – Workplace temperature screening is required.
Child Care Programs Reopening: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This metric measures states policies regarding the reopening of Child Care Programs.
1 – Child care programs open;
0.6 – Child care programs reopening according to state guidelines;
0.4 – Child care programs closed with exceptions for essential workers;
0 – Child care programs closed.
Strictness of “Shelter in Place” Order: Quadruple Weight (~13.56 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has imposed mandatory quarantine policies.
1 – State never issued “Shelter in Place” order;
0.9 – States that have lifted all stay-at-home mandatory restrictions;
0.7 – Only high-risk groups quarantine;
0.5 – Limited statewide quarantine (religious exemptions and/or beaches or state parks are open);
0 – Statewide mandatory quarantine.
Enforcement or Penalties for COVID-19 Legislation Non-Compliance: Half Weight (~1.69 Points)
Note: This metric measures the presence or absence of state action regarding enforcement or penalties sanctioning COVID-19 legislation non-compliance.
0 – State has no penalties or enforcement against COVID-19 legislation non-compliance mentioned;
1 – State has penalties or enforcement against COVID-19 legislation non-compliance.
Presence of Multistate Agreements to Reopen: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This metric measures the participation in Multistate Agreement or Regional Partnership by state.
1 – State is part of Multistate Agreement or Regional Partnership;
0 – State is not part of Multistate Agreement or Regional Partnership.
Suspension or Postponement of Legislative Sessions: Half Weight (~1.69 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has suspended or postponed Legislative Sessions.
1 – State never suspended or postponed Legislative Session;
0.9 – State Legislative Session has been resumed;
0 – State legislature has postponed its Legislative Session.
State Court Closure or Suspension: Double Weight (~6.78 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a state has suspended or postponed state court proceedings:
1 – No change to court schedules on state or local level;
0.5 – Suspended in-person proceedings on the local level;
0 – Suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
Guidance on Elective Surgery and Medical Procedures: Half Weight (~1.69 Points)
Note: This metric refers to whether states have issued guidance for hospitals and other medical facilities to reschedule nonessential surgeries to ease the demand for medical supplies during the coronavirus crisis, or previously had such guidance but lifted it.
1 – State never issued guidance on elective surgeries;
0.5 – State had but lifted guidance on elective surgeries;
0 – State has issued guidance on elective surgeries.
Guidance for Assisted Living Facilities Related to COVID-19: Full Weight (~3.39 Points)
Note: This composite metric refers to whether states have issued guidance for assisted living facilities related to COVID-19.
1 – No guidance for visitation of assisted living facilities related to COVID-19;
0.6 – Recommend visitation restriction of assisted living facilities due to COVID-19;
0.3 – Recommend visitation ban of assisted living facilities due to COVID-19;
0 – Prohibit visitation of assisted living facilities due to COVID-19.
1 – No guidance on staff screening of assisted living facilities related to COVID-19;
0.5 – Recommend staff screening of assisted living facilities due to COVID-19;
0 – Require staff screening of assisted living facilities due to COVID-19.
PPE (personal protective equipment):
1 – No guidance on PPE (personal protective equipment) of assisted living facilities personnel related to COVID-19;
0.5 – Recommend PPE (personal protective equipment) of assisted living facilities personnel due to COVID-19;
0 – Require PPE (personal protective equipment) of assisted living facilities personnel due to COVID-19.
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