During an August 21 press conference providing an update on the fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis confirmed that his temporary order setting last call for alcohol service at 10 p.m., which just expired, will be replaced by one moving the cutoff an hour later. Starting on Saturday, August 22, last call will be at 11 p.m., and he expressed optimism that further extensions may be in the offing.
"I'm hopeful that if the data continues to improve, within a month we can go to midnight," Polis said. Under normal circumstances, Colorado's last call is 2 a.m.
Those interested in the last-call decision had to wait for a while to hear about it. Polis opened his remarks by teasing a presentation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Dr. Rachel Herlihy regarding improvements to the agency's COVID-19 website, before touching briefly on an impressive stat: the state's current 2.18 percent positivity rate is the lowest since the pandemic began. (Later, Polis listed other data: 356 new positive cases and 12,233 people tested today, as well as a total of 1,815 deaths from the disease and more than 1,900 fatalities among those with the virus in their system.)
Next, Polis noted, "It's back-to-school time in Colorado," and talked about his visit to a second-grade classroom at a school in the Cherry Creek system, where he experienced the excitement of kids to be back with their peers. At the same time, however, he acknowledged the varying emotions that parents and educators are feeling regarding the return to in-person learning under the current circumstances — among them excitement, fear, relief and frustration. He acknowledged that people have different opinions about the best ways to move forward academically, and urged everyone to carefully research the options available so that they can make the best choice possible for their child.
Polis added that on the subject of schools, "We all have a very short wick." But he believes that "everybody is working as hard as they can," particularly since "there are no easy decisions."
During her time in the spotlight, Herlihy ran through a series of slides showing the website upgrades, which are live and can be eyeballed by clicking here. On top of new visuals intended to make the pages more user-friendly, Herlihy touted expanded hospitalization data, including information about patient demographics, as well as more specifics about outbreaks. For example, users will be able to exclude numbers related to outbreak sites such as prisons in order to get a better idea about spread in the larger community.
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With the assorted curves flattening, Polis pointed out that authorities have started granting variances to the current Safer at Home program again, with Ouray and Hinsdale among the first recipients since the process was restarted. The previous plan had been for counties to apply for permission to make more sweeping changes in their protocols under what's been dubbed the Protect Our Neighbors phase of the COVID-19 response, and he suggested that parts of the state with low virus numbers consider doing so, rather than making piecemeal requests related to individual events.
And finally, Polis landed on last call. "It's very important that all restaurants and bars observe social distancing protocols when serving alcohol later," he said in announcing the 11 p.m. move. "There's no fooling the data, no fooling the math. If there are huge outbreaks, it means we can't handle as a society those sort of inebriated late-night activities." But allowing businesses an extra hour of liquor service should "give folks a little more breathing room in a safe way," he continued.
What's really important "is not the food, not the alcohol," the pointed out. "Those are proxies. What's important is the social environment — you're coming with six people, you're hanging out with the people you came with, and there's another table eight or ten feet away. But the kind of freewheeling social environment that leads to you interacting with 86 people can lead to a super-spreader event that would devastate bars and restaurants."
If such viral explosions are avoided, Polis reiterated that he'd like to see "last call at midnight as soon as possible." In the meantime, he applauded restaurants and bars in cities that have adopted outdoor dining, which he called "a great entrepreneurial adaptation. The three times I've eaten out, I've been outdoors. Outdoors is twenty times safer than being indoors. I hope we can build upon it as we figure out solutions for winter months. We're looking forward to helping small businesses move through this."