COVID-19: Polis Orders Business Alcohol Sales to End at 10 P.M.

Governor Jared Polis during a press conference to announce a statewide mask mandate.
Governor Jared Polis during a press conference to announce a statewide mask mandate. Denver7 via YouTube
In a new restriction related to rising caseloads and hospitalizations from the spread of COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis has put in place a thirty-day, temporary restriction on any alcohol sales at bars, restaurants and any entity licensed to sell liquor in Colorado after 10 p.m.

"Normally in our state, last call is two in the morning," Polis said during a July 21 press conference about the fight against the novel coronavirus. "Now it's going to be 10 p.m. statewide" because "inebriation in public places is inconsistent with social distancing."

Polis snuck up on this announcement. He started his address by noting that July 20 was the anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting and encouraging organ donation, then shared fresh statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: 1,615 deaths from COVID-19, more than 1,700 fatalities of individuals who had the virus in their system at the time of their passing, and 409 new cases so far today. He confirmed that cases and total hospitalizations "continue to grow, and that's a trend we're concerned about. ... It's nearly doubled in the past two weeks, and what we can't afford is another doubling, and another doubling, which is the trajectory we're on."

Shortly thereafter, Polis introduced CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who talked about variances from the state public health order that have allowed certain counties in Colorado greater freedoms based on their low incidence of the virus. However, she added, "our early warning system has begun to blink red in a few areas."

Last week, for instance, Ryan said that fifteen Colorado counties with variances were notified that they had exceeded the metrics put in place to monitor their success at containing infections. These municipalities have two weeks to reverse the current trends or else the variance could be revoked, resulting in a reversion to the overall state policy, known as Safer at Home, or a requirement that mitigation plans be adopted. Of those fifteen counties, Ryan revealed, eight have opted to return to Safer at Home guidelines.

There are also counties without variances that are "considered in the red zone," Ryan added, explaining that her agency wants to work with officials in these areas to prevent the situation from deteriorating entirely. "Colorado could show the world how to live with this virus," she allowed, "but we must be disciplined."

Back at the podium, Polis showed off a graph illustrating that much of the growth in cases and hospitalizations of late is linked to Coloradans in the 20-to-29 demographic. People of this age are likely to have better outcomes should they contract the disease, "but we don't live in a world with generational isolation," he pointed out. "They don't live in a bubble," and if they're asymptomatic, they can unwittingly pass the malady along to their parents, grandparents or older, vulnerable strangers they encounter on the job or in commercial settings.

Spikes have also been associated with younger people "getting inebriated and socializing outside home," Polis continued. "Nobody is saying alcohol causes COVID-19. It doesn't. But have three or four people over at your home, not forty people in your home, and not at a bar/restaurant. I know part of the fun is being around eighty or 100 people, but we can't do that now."

For these reasons, Polis then announced, "The last call for alcohol will be ten o'clock" for the next thirty days. But that doesn't mean restaurants or bars that have converted to food service must close at that time: Meals and snacks can still be served after ten, just not in tandem with liquor.

Despite this edict, Polis divulged that "I'm very irritated by last call laws" and encouraged lawmakers in the next legislative session to consider giving local communities flexibility to write regulations allowing alcohol service after 2 a.m. once the pandemic is over.

During the next several weeks, however, he reiterated that "if you want to get inebriated, do it at home or with a few other people — and don't let your judgment lapse."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts