At a press conference today, Mayor Michael Hancock revealed that all on-site service at Denver bars and restaurants will end as of 8 a.m. tomorrow, March 17, because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
"None of these decisions have been easy ones to make, I can promise you," Hancock said. "But people's responses and understanding are what make these measures effective and which will get us through together."
The address was scheduled to get under way at 11 a.m. but started a few minutes late, in part because the mayor's temperature was checked before he entered the area where press had gathered, to make sure he wasn't showing this particular COVID-19 symptom.
After noting that the city's emergency operations center has been "in full activation throughout the weekend," Hancock offered updates on some other recent moves prompted by COVID-19, including the closure of all Department of Motor Vehicles locations throughout the city "until further notice." He added that DMV staffers won't be required to report until March 26, at which point they will resume processing mail, license applications and the like. A grace period until April 9 has been put in place in regard to transactions such as new vehicle registrations, and the DMV's website offers the opportunity for people to take care of some needs online.
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On another topic, Hancock stressed that "now is not the time to be evicting people from their housing." As a result, sheriff's deputies assigned to this duty are being redeployed "to other areas of need." Likewise, the sheriff's office "will increase social distancing in jail," he noted, and "certain non-violent arrestees" won't be incarcerated in these facilities, at least for right now.
Denver will also be following guidelines offered by the federal Centers for Disease Control to prohibit gatherings of fifty or more people starting immediately, with some exceptions. The ones specifically cited by Hancock were for grocery outlets, which will remain open and accessible. However, "we encourage you not to panic-buy," he said. "It's putting everyone in jeopardy."
Then Hancock delivered his biggest announcement, regarding the end of on-site seating at restaurants and bars for approximately the next eight weeks. Delivery, as well as drive-through and carry-out service, will be allowed, however,
"We know these increased measures have an impact on people's day-to-day lives," Hancock acknowledged. "But these are steps we must take to decrease people's exposure to this virus."
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At that point, Hancock turned his attention to the need for support of "our vulnerable populations and service providers working overtime," plus a partnership with Denver Public Schools "to make sure those eighteen and under will be able to get food." He touted "free grab-and-go meals" at eleven school locations across Denver (an increase from the original eight) and dinner to be served at eighteen recreation centers beginning today. Specifics can be found on the DPS website.
Hancock also mentioned assorted measures intended to support those experiencing homelessness. For instance, the city is currently in the midst of negotiations with several area hotels regarding providing space for the unhoused. In the meantime, he encouraged individuals who are "young, healthy and showing no signs of the virus" to volunteer to help keep shelters clean, and he also called for donations of cleaning supplies and "personal protective equipment." Those unable to volunteer in person will be able to make monetary donations via the Mile High United Way; details can be found on the site's COVID-19 relief page. Supplies can also be dropped off during selected hours at two rec centers: Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 3880 Newport Street, and La Alma Recreation Center, 1325 West 11th Avenue.
The plight of businesses and workers hit hard by the COVID-19 closures was noted several times by Hancock, and he urged those in need of assistance to reach out to city agencies such as Denver Human Services in order to access preexisting programs that may help.
"Our response to this virus is going to mean pressing our boundaries between what the city controls and where we need to ask other industries to step up and help us," Hancock concluded. "Now is the time for us to rise up as neighbors, as residents of this great city."