During a press conference at the State Capitol this morning, March 20, to update the public about Colorado's response to COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis announced a loosening of state rules that will allow many restaurants and bars to deliver alcohol, and also revealed the creation of a new economic-advisory team headed by former Denver mayor and U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Peña.
At the outset, Polis expressed condolences to the families of the latest two victims of COVID-19 — an El Paso man in his sixties who had a connection with the first person in the state to die from the virus, a woman in her eighties, as well as an elderly resident of Crowley County. He stressed the importance of taking measures to protect those age sixty or above and anyone with an underlying health issue, especially of the respiratory variety, while attempting to "avoid a catastrophic breach of our health-care capacity in the coming weeks."
He then recapped measures announced late on March 19 about limiting gatherings to ten people or fewer, putting a moratorium through April 14 on elective and non-essential surgery for humans and animals alike, and creating a new enrollment window at Connect for Health Colorado for those who may have lost their insurance along with their jobs in recent days. He also referenced the temporary closure of nail salons, hair salons, horse-racing facilities, off-track betting parlors, and tattoo and massage parlors until April 30, the same date to which a previous order concerning on-site service by restaurants and bars has been extended.
The latter businesses are still allowed to provide takeout and delivery service, and in what Polis described as "an additional step to help restaurants," the state will temporarily suspend its licensing requirement about alcohol delivery. "If they're licensed to sell beer and alcohol in their restaurant, they can now do so during take-out and delivery to support those food services," he noted.
Praise was also directed at those who've made donations to the COVID-19 relief fund or signed up to volunteer at the new Help Colorado Now website. The former has collected around $3.8 million to date, including approximately $318,000 given directly online, while 4,342 individuals have offered to pitch in during the current emergency.
On the financial front, Polis lauded Colorado's qualification for Small Business Association loans. Small businesses, agricultural co-ops and other select entities in all 64 counties in the state can now apply for loans of up to $2 million; see details at the Choose Colorado site.
After encouraging Colorado's federal delegation to "think big" in terms of legislative actions, including "ideas like delivering cash payments of at least $2,000 per American," Polis said an executive order is in the works to expedite unemployment claims. But he also talked about businesses that are currently hiring, specifically mentioning King Soopers, Safeway, Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service. He urged those seeking employment to visit the state labor-exchange portal, Connecting Colorado.
The federal government has now put in place a sixty-day suspension of foreclosures and evictions for those with loans overseen by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Polis encouraged all lenders at the state level and the private sector to follow suit. In his words, "The spread of the virus is not your fault. You should not lose your home or your utilities simply because a restaurant where you worked was forced to close down to prevent hundreds of thousands of Coloradans from dying."
The state is also requesting that financial institutions consider ninety-day deferments of commercial loans during this period, and Polis said he wants utilities to follow Xcel's lead when it comes to temporarily suspending disconnections over late or missed payments. The federal government has pushed its income tax filing deadline to July 15, and Colorado has done the same, but Polis said that this state's approach goes further, since there will be no conditions or caps on the amount of tax that can be deferred. People who are supposed to make estimated tax payments in the first half of 2020 will receive an extension as well; they won't incur any penalties if they pay before July 15.
As for local government and municipalities that might be looking at ways to defer property sales and use taxes in their jurisdictions, Polis said they'll find a "willing partner" in the state.
At that point, Polis turned to a special guest: Peña, who has agreed to lead a team of seven key economic advisers filled with high-profile heavy hitters, including Dick Monfort, owner of the Colorado Rockies. During his time at the podium, Peña said, "This is a global economic challenge the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime.... The extraordinary impact we're going to see on the state— not just on local businesses, but on individuals — is unprecedented."
The panel will be expanded to include representatives from every economic sector in the state, Peña promised, before outlining both short-term and long-term goals. Immediate concerns include medical costs, paid sick leave coverage, testing, treatment, temporary tax deferrals for businesses and individuals at the state and local level, and "re-skilling and up-skilling talents, so that we can train our current workers to be prepared for the new economy" — a post-virus landscape that could look very different from the one that preceded it. Beyond that, he said, members would be looking at "counter-cyclical infrastructure investment," large capital stocks, government bonds, trade impacts, supply chains and more.
"I don't want to be in any way alarmist," Peña emphasized, "but this is going to be difficult. The challenge we face is extraordinary. But thankfully, we've got great leadership.... We're preparing for the worst-case economic impact, but we're hopeful we can ameliorate some of those and come out of this even stronger."
With that, Polis returned to the microphone. "We'll get through this together," he said. "We'll be well-positioned for success. At the same time, we're charging forward with bold actions on the public-health response and providing additional relief consistent with public health, like allowing restaurants to deliver beer and wine."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.