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COVID-19: Where Denver and Colorado Are in the Virus Fight Now

Mayor Michael Hancock during a July 10 virtual press conference.
Mayor Michael Hancock during a July 10 virtual press conference.

The powers-that-be in Denver and Colorado are intensely aware of rising COVID-19 case numbers during recent days, as well as fully cognizant of the consequences that would accompany placing greater restrictions on life and commerce so soon after allowing more freedoms for the public.

As a result, Mayor Michael Hancock is using the threat of a rollback to gain greater compliance with safety measures in Denver, while Governor Jared Polis, who's expected to address the pandemic at a press conference later today, July 14, is extending a smattering of executive orders — evidence that he sees the crisis as far from over.

During a July 10 address on COVID-19, Hancock provided some hard numbers that warned of hard times ahead if they continued to grow.  Denver's positive rate for virus testing, which had been hovering at around 3 percent, had risen to 4.5 percent as of July 3 — and if it hits 7 percent, he said, reintroducing restrictions might be necessary. During the same time, hospitalization rates had gone from 7 percent to 11 percent — and reaching 20 percent would be another call to action. So, too, would hospital capacity of 95 percent or above; on July 3, that metric stood at 72 percent.

New shutdown orders would be "absolutely devastating to our economy — maybe even more so than when we had to freeze the economy back in March," Hancock conceded. For that reason, he made another pitch for wearing facial coverings in public — which he stressed is the current law in Denver.

In fact, the city updated its mask ordinance on July 7, and the enforcement passage in the document is direct and unambiguous. It reads:

Any person who fails to comply with this Order may also be subject to a civil penalty of up to nine hundred ninety-nine dollars ($999.00) per violation. Enforcement actions are intended to be cumulative in nature and Denver may pursue one or more civil, criminal, and administrative actions, fees, fines, sentences, penalties, judgments, and remedies and may do so simultaneously or in succession. 

At the July 10 press conference, Denver Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald confirmed that "we're going to ramp up enforcement" of mask usage. "Our goal is compliance," he noted. "We always look to education and warnings first, but our staff members will issue a summons if need be to gain compliance. We don't want to reverse course."

On a related topic, McDonald continued to defend city actions related to the growing homeless encampments, where "we have seen outbreaks," he said, including one related to hepatitis A that's led to more than 100 cases to date, plus what he characterized as "early signs of another type of bacterial outbreak." To help protect individuals from illness, Britta Fisher, Denver's chief housing officer and head of the Housing Stability department, said that nine individuals who'd been living near Morey Middle School have now been relocated to hotel and motel rooms, including three seen as especially vulnerable to the virus.

As for testing, Hancock said the decision to limit daily free analyses at the Pepsi Center to 2,000 was made to ensure that individuals can get results in a timely manner and lab capacity isn't overwhelmed. But federal funding for the operation will be exhausted soon, and Hancock said his administration is working with the state to guarantee financing when it does. Those details are expected to be finalized this week.

Here's a video of the complete update:

On the state level, Polis continued nine executive orders on Sunday, July 12, as announced by his office:

• Governor Polis extended an Executive Order to expedite the processing of unemployment insurance claims for Coloradans and will help protect the economic well-being of Colorado’s communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The Governor extended an Executive Order to ensure that hospitals and other inpatient treatment facilities have sufficient healthcare resources and personnel to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

• The Governor extended an Executive Order to maintain eligibility for Coloradans enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Basic Health Plan.

• The Governor extended an Executive Order to provide relief to public utility customers to mitigate, respond to, and recover from the current economic disruption due to the presence of COVID-19 in the State.

• The Governor extended and amended an Executive Order ordering State agencies to help prevent evictions of tenants economically harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The Governor extended an Executive Order to provide boards of county commissioners with broader discretion and greater flexibility to implement restrictions on open burning.

• Governor Polis amended and extended an Executive Order in light of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Ritchie v. Polis.

• Governor Polis extended and amended an Executive Order limiting in-person contact for the Secretary of State’s operations.

• The Governor extended an Executive Order concerning signature collection for Unaffiliated and Independent Candidates and authorizing the Secretary of State to create temporary rules for registered electors to receive and return candidate petitions over mail and email due to the presence of COVID-19. 

These orders typically expire thirty days from their implementation. But given the current case numbers in Colorado, their extension beyond that would surprise precisely no one.

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