The measures announced March 16 are the latest steps taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic and follow a similar order issued by Mayor Michael Hancock earlier in the day, which suspended on-site restaurant service in the city until May 11. The move also follows Polis's weekend order closing the state's downhill ski areas for a week — a time period that the governor said is likely to be extended.
"This isn't going to be easy," Polis said. "But the more seriously we take this public-health emergency, the better we can weather the storm and get through this crisis, with as little loss of life and as little damage to our economy as possible."
While the average individual's risk of severe health consequences from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remains low — 80 percent of cases exhibit only mild symptoms — public health experts and government officials have sounded urgent warnings about the need to "flatten the curve" of the virus's spread through shutdowns, self-quarantines and other forms of "social distancing."
"The fewer gatherings in the short- and medium-term, the fewer people at those gatherings, the better the chance we have to reduce the trajectory, to bend the curve, to save lives," Polis said.
Polis also stressed the importance of rapidly expanding Colorado's capacity to test for the virus, and overcome a nationwide testing shortage that has badly hampered efforts to manage its spread. Officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said on a conference call earlier in the day that the state's laboratory currently can test approximately 250 samples per day, with private testing services also beginning to ramp up capacity.
Since its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 5, Colorado has reported over 160 positive tests, including one fatality and 20 patients who are currently hospitalized — but the true number of infected Coloradans is likely far higher.
"In short, while we have 160 positive cases, the best estimate from our epidemiologists and others is that we have thousands of cases in Colorado today," Polis said. "We're chasing trailing indicators."
In addition to the other closures, Polis said that all state driver's license offices will also be shuttered for thirty days. But while the state is taking drastic measures to limit large social gatherings, Polis assured Coloradans that grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail outlets will remain open, and he discouraged the panic buying that has left shelves empty in stores across the country in recent days.
"If you're going shopping, go shopping — but again, try to keep that distance," he cautioned. "There's no need to go out and buy everything right now. We're not running out. The supply chains have months and months of lead time. And while this event will last months, it's not going to last years."