A day after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said a mandate that people stay in their homes to prevent spread of the new coronavirus was unenforceable, the mayor of the state’s largest city issued an order that does just that.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday announced a stay-at-home decree, closing non-essential businesses and banning people from congregating in parks and other public places. The order cuts off the last vestiges of normal social interaction in the city as health officials try everything they can to stop the new coronavirus.
“We’re the densest area in the state and right now we have the highest number of positive cases in the state,” Hancock said. “Because of that we need to take extra steps.”
There are at least 125 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Denver out of the more than 600 across the state. Officials have said there are likely thousands of people who are infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but who haven’t been tested.
Denver’s stay-at-home order will be in effect starting 5 p.m. on Tuesday and last until at least April 10.
Denver parks will remain open for people to walk and hike in, but not congregate or play sports. Playgrounds will be shut down, as will be recreational marijuana shops, liquor stores and breweries.
Public transit, including the airport and rideshares, are not affected by the order. Restaurants will still be allowed to delivery food and offer takeout meals. Medical marijuana stores are exempt, as are grocery stores and child care facilities.
“This isn’t a recommendation anymore,” he said. “People need to stay at home.”
The mayor said he expects surrounding cities and counties to follow with similar orders.
Hancock said behavior over the weekend prompted the need for the order, including people playing sports with each other at parks and picnics.
Hancock said he spoke to Polis and that the governor is “very supportive.” The mayor said last week that he would prefer a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order be made at the state level rather than by individual cities and towns.
Polis thanked Hancock in a written statement.
“Last week, San Miguel issued a stay at home order for non-critical functions and additional isolation measures were also taken in Gunnison, Eagle, and Summit counties,” the governor’s statement said. “Today, the city and county of Denver issued a similar order. I’m strongly in support of these local efforts, and it’s extremely important that just as our state is acting boldly and urgently, that our county health departments are also taking strong actions guided by science, data, and the real-life situation on the ground including taking into account local factors like population density and concentration of coronavirus cases, to best contain the spread of the virus.”
Similar shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders have been issued in recent days in several other cities and states, including California, Illinois and Connecticut. While the specifics of the mandates are different depending on who issues them, they generally direct residents to leave their homes as little as possible.
People can face fines or even jail time for disobeying a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. It wasn’t immediately clear how that enforcement would happen in Denver, but Hancock said it would happen “when and where it is necessary.”
“These are not easy decisions,” Hancock said.
But he said that the trend of the coronavirus’ spread is moving in the wrong direction and that public health officials have been advising him for days that a stay-at-home order is necessary.
“The bolder and quicker we move, the faster we can end the economic trauma in our community,” Hancock said.
Polis on Sunday said he was issuing “the strongest possible guidance” to Coloradans that they should not leave their homes unless it’s absolutely necessary. He advised people 60 and older, and those with preexisting health conditions, to not go out unless they need medical care.
“No matter the way that these are being explained to people, there is no civil law enforcement authority that is in a position in any city or state to enforce these,” Polis said of shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders.
He said the threat of jail or prison time won’t motivate people to adhere to extreme social distancing measures. But “a threat of death to your loved ones” will.
“What will inspire people to do this, and what will lead people to do this, is not fear of a policeman taking you to jail,” Polis said. “That’s not happening in Chicago. It’s not happening in Seattle. It’s not happening anywhere. It is fear of the Grim Reaper. An informed fear of the death and devastation that this virus can cause.”
Hancock said that his order is “not about bringing a hammer.” Enforcement will only be used as a last resort.