There's no debate: COVID-19 has made life in Colorado, and around the planet, immeasurably worse. But based on a visit yesterday, May 12, the changes instituted by the state Division of Motor Vehicles to deal with the novel coronavirus during the slow reopening of offices have actually improved what has traditionally been a miserable experience — at least for now.
The backlog created by DMV office closures starting in mid-March was enormous. According to agency spokesperson Julie Brooks, around 125,000 people who would have been served on site during that time lost access, and 25,000 or so appointments were canceled and needed to be rescheduled. To complicate matters further, folks whose licenses expired during the shutdown, including yours truly, weren't allowed to renew them online. An in-person stop was required at an office, and those that have been reopened are operating by appointment only — no walk-ins.
The DMV's online scheduler was glitchy at first when it was relaunched last week, but I finally managed to pin down an appointment time and place: noon on May 12 at the Denver Westgate office, 3265 South Wadsworth in Lakewood. I signed up for reminders, and now the system worked with a vengeance: I received multiple texts and emails over the course of several days — so many that going there seemed like the best way to finally get them to stop.
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I had fantasies that my specific appointment time would allow me to be admitted immediately — but that dream didn't last long. When I arrived, I found a line of about twenty people, most uncertain about whether to stick to their spot in the queue or ask for their place at the door; no employees were outside to guide us. Although there were only three stripes on the sidewalk to mark proper social distancing — far too few for the number of folks waiting — most of those waiting were careful to leave six-foot gaps, and everyone was masked, as required for entry into the building, with one exception.
The elderly guy standing closest to me, naturally.
The man had a sheer scarf knotted around his neck but wore it under his chin, and when I asked him about whether we needed to check in, he pointed to his ear to indicate he had difficulties hearing and started walking in my direction, forcing me and everyone behind me to temporarily back up.
He seemed confused and disoriented, and the idea of him behind the wheel of anything other than a kiddie cart at a grocery store was frankly terrifying. Good news, though: After he was admitted, the man utterly botched the eye test, failing to correctly identify a single letter on the chart — which is being used in lieu of more high-tech devices to increase social distancing — despite wearing his glasses and walking closer to it than allowed. Denver roads should be safer as a result.
Because only ten customers were allowed inside the DMV at a time, the wait for entry to the lobby took about twenty minutes. The DMV employee handling check-in duties wore a mask over his nose and mouth about half the time, but it didn't really matter, since it was made of paper and had sizable tears and rips. He asked me if I had any COVID-19 symptoms (nope) and if I'd recently been in contact with anyone with said symptoms (double nope) before taking my temperature using a no-touch device. I passed, which was common; he said that since the office reopened on May 11, no one had been rejected for running too hot.
The main area was largely empty, except for the counters and a central information booth, where a staff member waited to send patrons to assorted windows. I was soon directed to wait near two, by the aforementioned eye chart, until the customers at those windows had completed their business.
My options were a male employee who wore his mask under his nose and a female employee whose mask properly covered her face — and fortunately, I landed at her window. She was extremely efficient, but neither she nor her nearest colleague wore gloves, even though they were passing papers back and forth and handling licenses.
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After my data was entered, I was sent to stand near where photos were taken, and when it was my turn, I signed my name on an electronic pad using a stylus and pressed my right index finger onto a gadget that recorded my fingerprint — after which the woman at the station spritzed my digit with sanitizer. Then I stood in front of a backdrop, removed my mask and smiled too widely for the camera.
"No teeth," the woman told me, before snapping another shot.
Seconds later, I was handed a temporary license — this staffer didn't wear gloves, either — and headed toward the exit. Accumulated time: forty minutes, which wasn't exactly brief, but also wasn't as much of a marathon as many trips to the DMV had been in the past.
All in all, it could have been worse — which, when applied to the DMV at any time, much less during a pandemic, qualifies as a compliment.