COVID-19: Colorado Restaurants Will Be Serving on Streets, Sidewalks

Colorado Governor Jared Polis getting tested for COVID-19 during a May 18 press conference.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis getting tested for COVID-19 during a May 18 press conference.
During a May 18 press conference, Governor Jared Polis said that state officials will have preliminary guidelines for the reopening of restaurants available for public perusal either later today or tomorrow, May 19, and promised that they'll encourage dining outside because doing so enhances safety. He also urged cities and counties to pass rules in conjunction with a scheduled May 25 announcement about a reopening schedule that will allow eateries to expand onto sidewalks, as well as into parking lots and the streets in front of their locations — something Denver revealed that it's considering within moments of the governor's remarks.

Colorado "is going to waive every rule and regulation we can, including serving beer and wine on streets," Polis pledged. "But, of course, it is the cities that control those regulations.... If cities value having restaurants, it's really important that they open their sidewalks, parking lots and/or streets in the next few weeks to have that capacity — because restaurants can't stay in business at a quarter or half capacity."

If outdoor spaces are made available, however, Polis thinks that many restaurants will be able to reach the equivalent of 100 or even 150 percent of normal indoor seating, putting greater economic success within reach.

His press conference was staged at STRIDE Community Health Center, at 7495 West 29th Avenue in Wheat Ridge, in order to accentuate the event's theme: More Coloradans can be tested for COVID-19 than at any point since the pandemic hit the state. Because of limited supplies, Polis and his administration had previously told people who were symptomatic but not in desperate need of hospitalization to self-isolate until five days or so after their various conditions had ended. But now that many more kits and their components are available, the state suggests that anyone with symptoms and a doctor's okay get a test, which are available for free at STRIDE, 32 Colorado-sponsored sites and many other hospitals and private clinics. Those who are asymptomatic but work in "front-facing jobs" where they are in frequent contact with others, such as senior centers, can be tested, too.

In addition, Polis demonstrated the ease of testing by having a nasal-swab analysis conducted on him, mirroring a move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, May 17. Polis noted that the test took about ten seconds and felt like "a little tickle." Results of such tests are returned in the 24-to-48-hour range — a longer waiting period than for the one he took before meeting with President Donald Trump last week, but with greatly enhanced accuracy.

The high-water mark for the number of tests per day in Colorado stands at around 5,000, Polis allowed, but double that number can be processed now. He added that anyone with the most common COVID-19 symptoms (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell) has a greater chance of having contracted the novel coronavirus; that's because social distancing has reduced cases of the flu or even the common cold, which is more likely to produce a stuffy, runny nose than is COVID-19.

At that point, Polis yielded the floor to Savita Ginde, STRIDE's chief health-care officer, who divulged that her operation had completed roughly 10,000 swab tests to date, with a positive rate of around 21 percent. On April 27, STRIDE also began offering antibody tests and has processed nearly 2,000 of them so far. Of those, 9 percent were positive, suggesting that the individuals in question may have had COVID-19.

Upon his return to the podium, Polis stressed that experts don't yet know how much protection antibodies provide. They believe, though, that "it's more than zero but less than 100 percent."

Restaurants were among the first topics raised during the subsequent question-and-answer session. Polis touted Colorado's "wonderful summer weather" as a reason that more outdoor dining can work. "We're still looking at the May 25 date for the final call," he said, citing the need for more data to determine with certainty that on-site dining can be restarted safely. "This is going to be the way restaurants can inspire consumer confidence."

He also mentioned evidence collected from health-care pros that there's a major safety difference between "internal, recirculating airflow in an enclosed environment" and the great outdoors when combined with social distancing of at least six feet.

Once the draft guidelines for restaurants are out, Polis continued, authorities will collect feedback from business owners and the general public for the remainder of this week before finalizing the language. That way, restaurants will be able to get prepared for the likelihood that May 25 will bring a firm reopening date.

Other subjects raised by reporters included the process by which signatures will be collected for ballot initiatives amid the COVID-19 response, a pending state blueprint for making traditional classroom instruction at schools safe in the fall, and the state's inaction thus far against restaurants operating in Weld County that local officials haven't bothered to close; he claimed not to know about any such scenarios even though they've been widely reported. Polis also shared his thoughts about the statistical changes in differentiating between people who've died with COVID-19 as opposed to from it — a switch that resulted in a lowering of the overall Colorado fatality toll below 1,000, not to mention Polis's appearance on Fox News yesterday.

"We want to make sure people have confidence," Polis stressed. "There are people who attack these numbers, and we wanted to make sure we had the possible strongest defense by saying a doctor, coroner or attending physician used their professional ability to say, 'This person died from COVID-19.'" But he also acknowledged the likelihood that some deaths have been missed along the way. In his view, the real death number in Colorado is probably somewhere between the previous, higher total and the new, lower one.

Whatever the actual figure, Polis believes that if people stop social distancing or wearing masks as the economy reopens, "we're going to go back to worse than we were in March and April. The hospitals will be flooded. ... But I'm an optimist, and I strongly believe Coloradans are being responsible and making good choices."
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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