COVID-19 Update: Polis Issues Colorado Stay-at-Home Order

Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaking at a March 25 press conference.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaking at a March 25 press conference.
During a press conference at the Emergency Operations Center in Centennial late on Wednesday, March 25, Governor Jared Polis finally did what many had expected him to do for days: issue a statewide stay-at-home order intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

On several occasions during his talk, Polis quoted from Ecclesiastes, the third chapter of the Bible — although he conceded that many folks know the words as a song by folk icon Pete Seeger. Toward the end of his remarks, however, he gave the lines a twist, saying, "There is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die. And I want to share with my fellow Coloradans that now is not the time to die. And we will not let it happen on our watch."

Prior to this dramatic moment, Polis shared updated statistics about the spread of COVID-19, noting that the number of positive cases in Colorado has surpassed 1,000, with hospitalizations at 148 and deaths jumping to nineteen. In this context, he revealed that he had asked President Donald Trump to declare Colorado a major disaster area — a designation that has already been granted for Washington, California and New York. Polis believes that this move is justified in part because of what he described as "a uniquely high infection situation unfolding in our mountain communities, as well as for those who have visited our mountain areas." This action will open up additional federal resources for the state, he added.

Following his initial recitation from Ecclesiastes, Polis said, "It's important to know that I'm speaking to all of Colorado when I say now is the time to stay at home," adding that while the numbers and data indicate that Colorado is making strides, "that progress is not enough."

The stay-at-home order for the state begins tomorrow, March 26, at 6 a.m. and will remain in place through Saturday, April 11.

Among the reasons Polis offered for acting now is that numerous county health departments have already done so, potentially putting stress on other places. He compared the possible impact to resorts in Vail closing, thereby creating the prospect of "more and more people going to fewer and fewer resorts to recreate" — which prompted Polis to mandate ski area shutdowns statewide earlier this month.

What Polis conceded is an "extreme measure" is intended to help Colorado build hospital capacity and acquire needed equipment, as well as "to save lives. It could be your aunt or your uncle. It could be your parent or your grandparent. It could be your own life that is saved by these strong actions we're taking now. We're not talking about one or two lives. We're talking about thousands of Coloradans' lives. Perhaps tens of thousands of Coloradans will be saved by the actions we're taking today."

To follow the order, individuals "should only interact with your own household, and only leave your household when you absolutely have to," Polis said. "That means grocery stores, liquor stores." In a reference to the mob scenes in Denver when Mayor Michael Hancock initially failed to designate both marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores as essential before quickly clarifying his order, Polis added, "You don't need to rush to those. They're staying open."

The policy allows individuals to leave their home to obtain food and household necessities, travel to and from work if they're an essential employee, get medical attention, and care for dependents, pets and vulnerable people in other locations. But Polis emphasized that vulnerable Coloradans, including those in their sixties, seventies and eighties, should "stay at home at all times unless you are seeking medical care."

Following a reference to "over 7,000 Italians of all stripes of society" who have perished from COVID-19 to date, Polis mentioned the sacrifices made by Americans during world wars. Today's Coloradans will be sacrificing by staying home, he said — but he sought to minimize fears of financial catastrophe by citing a pending federal aid package that's nearing passage: "When Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump agree on something, you know it's important."

Prior to taking questions, Polis revealed that he had spoken to executives from King Soopers and Safeway stores, and asked them to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus, including outfitting staffers with personal protective equipment and gloves as soon as they're available (supplies of both have been extremely short), increasing social distancing in the shopping environment and designating times when the most vulnerable members of the citizenry can shop under less crowded circumstances. He also suggested that older members of the stores' workforce be tasked with stocking or working in back rooms, to decrease their potential virus exposure, and called on municipalities to temporarily suspend plastic bag fees, since disposable bags could reduce infection spread.

At present, the state lab in Colorado has eliminated its testing backlog and tripled its capacity, Polis reported. Moreover, 4,500 test kits are being distributed to local public health agencies, and other efforts are under way to scale up the speed of such analyses. The governor also sent shout-outs to the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, which will be testing newly acquired personal protective equipment and the like to make sure it's safe for use by medical professionals who desperately need it. But shortfalls remain in other areas. "The latest delivery from the national stockpile had zero ventilators," Polis admitted.

"Americans have been called on to serve our country time and time again," Polis noted. "You have the chance to be a hero and save thousands of lives by staying at home."

See Polis's latest order below:
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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