Gov. Jared Polis announced some good news at his April 20 news conference.
“We are starting to see the daily hospitalization rate starting to level off,” the governor said, adding, “we’ve stopped that exponential growth curve that would have overwhelmed our hospitals.
“It’s really testimony to your work staying home whenever you can,” Polis told Coloradans.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment posted on Twitter a set of three phases of the coronavirus’ spread in Colorado. In the first, the urgent phase, the state aims to expand health care capacity and determine the benefit of certain social distancing policies. Colorado was at that point as of mid-April.
In the stabilization phase, the state aims to keep down the rate of virus spread and increase testing, quarantining and isolating on a more individual level, supported by contact tracing — a process where public health workers help inform people that they were exposed to COVID-19. Large gatherings are still banned in this phase.
In the recovery phase, which hinges on a treatment or widespread immunity due to many people having contracted COVID-19, the state would “lift all restrictions” and monitor for outbreaks.
Social distancing restrictions could continue for months at least, until there's a cure or vaccine, Polis has said.
In the final week of Colorado's stay-at-home order, Gov. Jared Polis compared the month-long measure to a sprint and emphasized that the months ahead — a “marathon” of social distancing — will be critical to keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the state.
“I hate to break it to you, but the easy part was the sprint,” Polis said at an April 20 news conference, announcing a new phase of restrictions Coloradans likely will need to sustain for months.
Coloradans won't endure a second extension of the statewide stay-at-home order — it was lifted April 27 as scheduled. But after that date, the state still encourages staying home as much as possible, while some semblance of normalcy will return to business and people's social lives.
Retail stores, for example, will be open for curbside delivery and then gradually open with precautions, according to Polis' presentation. That could involve spacing between customers, one-way aisles and employees wearing masks, Polis said.
Clubs and event venues will remain closed, and bars and restaurants won't open for dine-in service at least at first, according to Polis' presentation. The state will wait for data on how opening up retail affects the pandemic in Colorado before making a decision on restaurants, Polis said.
“A phased reopening of restaurants” by mid-May is the goal, Polis said.
State officials dubbed the new phase of social distancing a “safer at home” phase — an order was issued April 26 — and for adults 65 and older and people with serious underlying health conditions, the state still urges staying home except when absolutely necessary. Social distancing is a public health term that means reducing face-to-face interaction.
For everyone else, the state strongly advises wearing face coverings in public. Among other restrictions: Sick people may not go to work, Coloradans should avoid unnecessary travel and another part of the presentation said “no gatherings over 10 people.”
“It doesn't mean we're going to big nightclubs, but you shop for clothes, get a haircut,” Polis said. Businesses such as salons, tattoo parlors, dog grooming and personal training will open with precautions.
Other changes include:
• Office workplaces the state had deemed noncritical can return to work May 4 at 50% capacity. Large workplaces are advised to use temperature and symptom checks. Working from home still “needs to be maximized,” and Polis encouraged staggering shifts to keep distance between workers.
• “Elective” medical and dental services — those that that are not urgent — will be allowed with precautions.
• Higher education and K-12 schools will remain closed. It's unclear if that would apply in the fall. The governor's office could not immediately respond to a question about that timeline.
• Real estate showings can begin, but no open houses.
• Child care will be open with precautions.
Coloradans are asked to avoid “unnecessary social interactions,” according to the presentation.
Eventually, a third social distancing phase — dubbed “protect our neighbors” — would see people socialize more normally with “significant precautions” and protections for vulnerable populations. That will occur when the capacity to better test for COVID-19 and monitor its spread will work “at scale,” the presentation said.
But “that's a long way off,” Polis said.
Fluctuation between the three levels — the first was the stay-at-home order — may be needed to recover from outbreaks, according to the presentation. Polis has said a stay-at-home order may need to be issued again if the virus's spread is dire enough.
Polis announced the state has its first application from a county to lift the state's stay at home order locally, a few days before it would end statewide.
Eagle County has seen a “sustained decrease for the last 14 days” and has shown its testing capabilities and preparedness to contain the virus, according to Polis.
Local public health agencies may apply for relief from the stay-at-home order to more effectively meet local conditions, according to the order's text.
The governor's enthusiasm appeared to encourage moves for local control going forward, and the presentation announced a process for local governments to modify the state's new guidelines based on local conditions.
“There should not be, in a big diverse state, one statewide approach. We knew the situation would be different in Otero County, in Pitkin County” and so on, Polis said.
That means county officials could implement measures locally to address a COVID-19 outbreak at a single facility, or issue a temporary stay-at-home order for a neighborhood or area with an outbreak, Polis said.
State officials in recent weeks have noted the importance of increased testing as social distancing restrictions roll back, to keep the virus's spread controlled.
And while there was never a clear timeline for Polis' goal of mass testing, it appears Colorado won't achieve widespread statewide testing before the stay-at-home order ends.
Polis said the state continues its work to increase testing capacity and noted the state is seeing 10 times as much testing as around when the pandemic began in Colorado.
“But even if you had all that (mass) testing, you wouldn't have the ability to follow up from a quarantine perspective” on most people, and social distancing would still be necessary, Polis said.
Another shortcoming of testing is that a large portion of those with COVID-19 don't show symptoms, the governor added.
“No one anywhere is even close to testing (all) asymptomatic people,” Polis said.
Colorado is dealing with testing supply shortages, like other places across the country, according to Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist.
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