Today, March 23, Mayor Michael Hancock issued a sweeping order that requires non-essential businesses in Denver to shut down their workspaces and mandates that residents stay at home, with the exceptions of grocery shopping, going outside for exercise, and seeking medical care and medicine. Those exceptions include medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana...until Hancock clarified his order a few hours later with this:
"All marijuana stores with extreme physical distancing in place will be exempt."
The same rule holds for liquor stores, which were ordered closed in the original order, and now can stay open with "extreme physical distancing."
Oh, and while restaurants are closed to dine-in eating, they will be allowed to continue to-go and delivery of both food and liquor.
"It’s very important that every Denver resident comply with this order. This isn’t a recommendation anymore. People need to stay at home," Hancock said during his announcement.
The order, which is intended to lessen the spread of COVID-19 in Denver, takes effect at 5 p.m. March 24, and runs until at least April 10.
"As much as I might think it’s essential for me, it’s not essential for everyone," Hancock said of the initial liquor store closure, which he modified just hours later. Music and art venues, gyms, and salons had already been ordered closed last week.
Playgrounds will also be closed, while daycare centers will not be required to shut down. Businesses that the city considers essential, such as medical care facilities, news outlets and companies that work on infrastructure projects, will also be allowed to continue operating.
Additionally, park rangers will be enforcing social distancing in the city's parks going forward, and will be authorized to disperse groups playing sports or having picnics. Police officers will be patrolling streets, and business inspectors will be touring businesses to ensure compliance with the order. Although city employees will offer verbal warnings for non-compliance at first, they will have the option of fining individuals $999 per violation.
Hancock justified the order, which is significantly more sweeping than a statewide order issued by Governor Jared Polis on March 22, by citing the fact that Denver is the most densely populated part of the state and that bolder measures need to be taken quickly to ensure that the city's hospital system isn't overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’re going to get to the other side of this, and we can get there faster if everyone follows these orders and stays at home," Hancock said.
The mayor's order came just a day after Polis issued a semi-stay-at-home order. The governor had ordered non-essential workplaces to reduce their in-person workforce by at least 50 percent, even asking them to get to 100 percent telecommuting if possible. As with Denver's order, certain essential businesses, such as media outlets, grocery stores and health-care facilities, are exempt from the statewide order.
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But Polis did ask individuals to lessen the number of times they go outside of their homes for things like exercise and grocery shopping.
In an effort to get Coloradans to comply with his orders, Polis said the ultimate enforcement authority would be "the Grim Reaper." Even so, non-compliance with the state order is also punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail as a last resort.
Update: This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. to reflect "clarifications" regarding liquor stores and dispensaries in the original March 23 order, below.