COVID-19 in Colorado

Colorado orders 'non-critical' workplaces to cut in-person staff in half; urges public to stay home

Polis stops short of shelter-in-place order; aims for mass COVID-19 testing


After nearly two weeks of slowly escalating urgings and orders to curtail the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis fervently asked Coloradans only to leave their homes when absolutely necessary — but he stopped short of ordering residents to comply the way several other states have.

“We are issuing the strongest possible guidance for individuals,” Polis said at a March 22 news conference.

That includes urging people to stay home except for essential purposes, such as buying food, obtaining medication or health care service, or collecting supplies needed to work from home.

The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 should not leave home at all unless they need medical care, Polis said.

He also announced an order that requires “noncritical” workplaces to reduce their in-person workforce by 50% — by working from home or staggering shifts — by March 24.

The order generally excludes government and health care; agriculture; manufacturing of food, medical supplies and other essentials; groceries, gas and hardware retailers; and services such as trash removal and shipping, among others.

The executive order doesn't apply if employers can show that their workers are never within 6 feet of each other. It remains in effect until April 10 unless modified by another order.

Asked why he is refraining from issuing a shelter-in-place order — sometimes called stay-at-home orders, which generally require people to stay inside as much as possible — Polis said no law enforcement in any city or state can actually enforce such an order.

A “fear of the grim reaper” — that Coloradans' loved ones, or they themselves, may die — is what motivates people to comply, Polis said.

“The consequences are far beyond any that can be doled out by any law enforcement agency in the state,” said Polis, who also said the state wants to articulate its guidance in a way that gets the most buy-in, or voluntary compliance, from the public.

San Miguel County was the first county in the state to announce a shelter-in-place order that lasts through at least April 3, making an exception for obtaining medication, going to the doctor, getting groceries, outdoor exercise, or caring for a family member or pet. People are allowed to leave for work only at certain types of businesses.

A public health order by the state Department of Public Health and Environment, which accompanies Polis' executive order, urged people to only engage in those kinds of activities, similar to San Miguel County's list. It also urged people who are sick to stay home except to seek medical care — and, contrasting with its other, softer language, it issued a requirement for those who have symptoms of COVID-19.

They "must self-isolate until their symptoms cease or until they have a negative test result," the order says.

Mass testing

Polis announced the state is working toward a “mass testing” effort to detect COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus, to get a better hold on the crisis.

The ideal response to the pandemic would have been to have mass testing months ago to quarantine people as necessary, “rather than doing what we're doing now, which is moving toward quarantining a whole society,” Polis said.

The state aims to tailor its strategy to South Korea or Taiwan's successful containment and less like Italy, which has seen thousands of COVID-19 deaths and tens of thousands diagnosed.

“That day is not tomorrow and not next week, but we have the team in place” to set up mass testing, Polis said. It will likely be weeks or perhaps months until that happens, he added.


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