COVID-19: Colorado Overnight Developments, Disturbing Data

Governor Jared Polis meeting with first responders earlier this month.
Governor Jared Polis meeting with first responders earlier this month.
Colorado's fight against COVID-19 is moving so quickly that developments come at all hours of the day and night.

On March 26, Governor Jared Polis, operating in the wake of his stay-at-home order for the entire state, signed two significant executive orders intended "to protect public health and safety," including one that extends licensing dates for wineries, marijuana dispensaries and more. In addition, the Department of Corrections embraced a previous Polis mandate about best practices at jails and prisons even as a DOC staffer tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, officials reported a continuing escalation of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, including the passing of a longtime Denver musician.

The first of Polis's late-day executive orders authorized "certain State agencies to promulgate and issue emergency rules extending the expiration date for certain licenses and other documents to limit in-person renewals and enable state agencies to better respond to COVID-19," according to his office. While this description makes the move seem dry and bureaucratic, t's actually a sweeping action that touches upon the whole of Colorado's enormous licensing apparatus; the rules will remain in place for at least thirty days and can be extended if necessary.

Expiration-date suspensions will impact annual state park entrance passes, vessel registration, off-highway vehicle registration and permits, certificates of approval for private occupational schools, educator preparation programs, controlled-substance licenses, designations for 72-hour mental health treatment, child-care facilities, child placement agencies, homeless youth shelters, air ambulance licenses and other health-care certifications, and commercial driver's licenses.

The edict will have an equally large impact on businesses, with extensions for assorted liquor licenses, bed-and-breakfast permits, and licenses for hotels and restaurants, taverns, retail gaming establishments, brewpubs, clubs, racetracks, art galleries, medical marijuana stores, cultivation facilities and retail cannabis outlets, among many, many others.

The second executive order from Polis updates "protocol for state prisons and community corrections facilities" and "provides flexibility to DOC facilities and suspends certain requirements in order to protect the health and safety for Coloradans."

Many of the measures are intended to reduce the population of detention centers — an important goal for the ACLU of Colorado, which had urged Polis to take action. For instance, "caps and criteria on awards of earned time credits" that often result in the lessening of sentences have been temporarily suspended, as has "the criteria for release to Special Needs Parole" and the portion of a state statute "that requires a prisoner to successfully complete a regimented inmate discipline program," giving the DOC wide latitude to tailor policies on an individual basis.

Polis also suspended legal provisions "addressing the custody level of offenders and duration of time for which the DOC may incarcerate persons at the Centennial Corrections Facility-South" in Cañon City "so as to make the 650 beds at that facility available to the DOC to house persons of mixed classification for operation needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak" — a move that will give the department flexibility should infections sweep through a certain jail or prison.

And that isn't impossible. Confirming that it will implement Polis's directives, the DOC also divulged that "a staff member has been confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19." The individual, a parole officer from the Sterling region, did not work inside a prison, but the department is not taking chances. To that end, "The department is working to track where the staff member has been and who they have come in contact with, and will be working with CDOC’s medical staff to take the appropriate precautions. The department will also be cooperating with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment."

As of March 26, the department's release continues, "there have not been any inmates that have tested positive for COVID-19." But the DOC does not offer any information about how widespread testing has been throughout the state system.

Meanwhile, general testing is only scraping the surface. The latest update from the Colorado Department of Public Health shows that 10,122 tests have been given — which accounts for only a tiny sliver of the state's overall population, estimated at north of 5.8 million. A total of 1,430 people have either tested positive or "epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19," the health department says. Of those, 184 people have been hospitalized and 24 people have died, including jazz saxophonist Freddy Rodriguez Sr., who's had a regular gig at El Chapultepec for decades. (To learn more about Rodriguez, who died late on March 24, read a wonderful 2001 Westword profile of the musician and his son and bandmate, Freddy Rodriguez Jr., penned by the late Bill Gallo.)

As of late March 26, there have also been nine outbreaks to date at residential and non-hospital health-care facilities.

Click to read Governor Jared Polis's executive orders about license extensions and prison facilities.
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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