Tri-County's order, like Denver's, would likely allow liquor stores to remain open. After initially leaving liquor stores and marijuana shops off the list of exempted businesses when it announced the order March 23, Denver added them later that afternoon, but not before crowds rushed to area liquor stores, creating massive lines in a rush to stock up.
Here's what Denver's order now says:
• Liquor stores with extreme physical distancing in place will be exempt.
• All marijuana stores with extreme physical distancing in place will be exempt.
The Tri-County Health Department took a step Tuesday afternoon toward requiring residents in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties to stay at home to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“This is probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in public health,” Executive Director John M. Douglas in a conference call with members of the agency's nine board of directors and some representatives from each county.
Douglas said he is working with his counterparts in Jefferson and Boulder counties to draft a final stay at home order that could go in place as early as Thursday and continue through April 17, with an ability to extend it if that becomes necessary. That's a week longer than the order Denver adopted March 23.
“April 10 is now 17 days from today, and nobody really knows the right answer,” Douglas said. “We thought that 17 days was too short to know whether this more severe measure was making a difference or not.”
Members of the agency's board voted 8-0 to give Douglas the authority to approve the stay at home order, once it is drafted.
Only Dr. Thomas Fawell, a representative for Arapahoe County, wasn't a yes vote, abstaining because members of his county commission were opposed to the action.
“I am for this, but my commissioners are not all on the same page so I'll abstain at this time,” Fawell said.
The text of a Tri-County order is not available because it is still being negotiated with the other boards of health, but officials said it would be similar to Denver's order.
Denver issued its stay-at-home order March 23, requiring people and businesses to stay home to help slow the spread of the disease. The order was to go into effect at 5 p.m. March 24 and continue until April 10.
People are allowed to leave home for certain activities, such as buying groceries, obtaining medication, visit a doctor, collect supplies to work from home, exercise outside, or caring for a family member or pet in another home.
Denver's order also allows for workers in various industries considered “essential businesses” — a long list including health care, infrastructure, utilities, grocery stores, agriculture, restaurants, news media and many more — to leave home to work.
The Tri-County list expands on that, adding exemptions for gun stores. The change was made to make sure the rule does not interfere with constitutional rights.
Besides being a Second Amendment issue, access to guns and ammunition would also be a concern for farmers and ranchers in the more rural parts of the area.
“For some, that might not be essential but we know what a hot-button political topic that is,” Douglas said. “We also did not know if our law enforcement would need, in a pinch, to be able to get firearms from those stores. “
Douglas said he and the other counties are working hard to make sure any order issued is taken seriously, without being too drastic. As of March 4, Adams County had reported 31 people testing positive for the virus, Arapahoe reported 68 and Douglas County reported 44.
Health officials fear that's just the tip of the iceberg, Douglas said.
“We know that we are measuring things poorly,” he said. “Our limited testing may be showing us, at best, 5% of the cases. We don't think we are missing deaths and we don't think we are missing hospitalizations. Now the testing, as limited as it is, really is being directed at sick people in the hospitals, not to get an accurate count but so they can be isolated. We absolutely know we are not measuring who is actually sick in the community. We know that what we can measure with tests today is something that was happening two weeks ago.”
Marsha Jaroch, a member of the board of health representing Douglas County, noted that her commissioners were split on the stay at home order.
But Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter said she and her colleagues were all on board.
“There is a lot of fear that previous orders have not been respected and seem to more like suggestions,” Pinter said. “So we are in favor of some strong language to encourage our residents to take this seriously. I know there has been a lot of talk about how we don't want to incite fear. But it occurs to me that the flip side of fear is respect and we need to respect the seriousness of the crisis we are facing.”
Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties were scheduled to host a Telephone Town Hall at 7 p.m. March 24 with Tri-County officials to discuss the virus and the counties' reactions. Residents can call in at 855-436-3656 to listen.
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