Most of the Denver metropolitan area will remain under a stay-at-home order through at least May 8 even as Gov. Jared Polis relaxes his statewide restrictions on Coloradans’ movement starting next week.
Public health officials in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder and Jefferson counties on Friday followed Denver’s lead in keeping the stay-at-home mandate in place, saying more work is needed to expand testing and infection tracing before restrictions can be loosened.
“We know we can bring back the economy. We know that we can rebuild businesses,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news conference Friday. “We know that we can start new businesses. What we cannot do is replace lives that have been lost.”
The extended orders mean that about half of Colorado’s 6 million residents will remain under some kind of stay-at-home directive. The extensions mark the second time public health officials in the Denver area have opted to enact more restrictive measures than the state’s.
Polis said Friday that modeling has shown that extending the state’s stay-at-home order will not decrease the impact of the coronavirus on Colorado. That’s why he is allowing for retail stores to reopen to in-person shopping on May 1 and for workers to begin returning to their jobs.
But he said he recognizes why Denver-area health departments have decided to delay the expiration of their stay-at-home mandates.
“What Denver has done, in a very thoughtful way, is they said ‘we need a little more time to operationalize, to figure out how we’re going to enforce these health requirements,’” Polis said. “It’s completely understandable that somebody is saying, ‘Look, May 1 we’re not ready to have the inspections of the retail to make sure they are safer and all of these things. We need another week.’”
Hancock, however, said the decision to keep Denver’s stay-at-home order in place had to do with increasing the city’s testing and infection tracing capacity. Other metro area health departments echoed that message.
“We have increasing cases of COVID-19, insufficient access to testing, and too few case investigators to consider anything else than extending the current stay-at-home order,” Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health executive director, said in a written statement. “We want to avoid relaxing restrictions only to have to reimpose them if there’s a new surge in cases.”
Denver announced its decision on Thursday and Jefferson and Boulder counties joined on Friday morning.
Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties and is the largest local health agency in the state, decided to extend the stay-at-home order on Friday afternoon for all but Douglas County.
“We want to get people back to work as soon as it is safer to do so,” said Dr. John M. Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, said in a written statement. “This extension in Adams and Arapahoe will give us more time to do several things: expand public health measures such as testing and contact notification, develop and implement strategies in partnership with our business community on how to safely reopen, and to encourage the public to practice social distancing and other safety measures—all of which should hopefully reduce the spread of this disease.”
There are some modifications being made to the mandate. Jefferson County, for instance, is allowing retail stores to reopen for curbside sales only. In Boulder, Adams and Arapahoe counties, any noncritical business can offer curbside delivery of products, as well, and travel to pick those items up will be considered “necessary” under the new order.
“We’re in a no-win situation,” said Zayach. “I know the livelihoods of many people have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. We hope that including the option for curbside delivery for non-critical businesses will help our communities start getting back on their feet.”
But, for the most part, life in and around metro Denver will remain on pause as it has for the past month: stalled due to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
The decision to not include Douglas County in Tri-County’s stay-at-home order extension comes after the county’s commissioners sent a letter Wednesday to health officials asking that they be exempt from any extension of the stay-at-home order.
“With no sustained surge in the number of cases requiring hospitalization as a result of COVID-19, Douglas County believes as long as our communities continue to make responsible choices we can, and should, start taking steps to reopen,” the commissioners wrote.
Broomfield has not announced its plans. Its board of health was set to meet Friday night to determine next steps, but officials hinted they are likely to also extend the stay-at-home directive.
“The Denver metro region is seeing a much more concerning coronavirus environment than other areas in Colorado. It’s critical that we work together with our neighboring communities to protect the health and safety of our community,” Broomfield Public Health Director Jason Vahling said in a written statement. “Moving too quickly out of the stay-at-home order, without the necessary public health and public safety protections in place, could be detrimental to slowing the spread of the virus in Broomfield and the region.”