Colorado officials issued new, detailed guidelines for how the state should operate Monday as it moves into the second phase of its response to the coronavirus pandemic following the expiration of a statewide stay-at-home order.
A 34-page order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets standards for businesses and retailers as they reopen, urges ongoing precautions for individuals, allows some college and vocational classes to resume in person, and establishes some protections for vulnerable workers who cannot safely physically return to their workplaces.
The order, which took effect at 6 a.m. Monday — but wasn’t released publicly until the afternoon — will last until May 26. It sets specific standards for different industries and activities.
The reopening guidelines and rules do not apply in places where local health orders are more restrictive, including Denver, Adams, Pitkin, Arapahoe, Jefferson and Boulder counties. Those counties have extended their stay-at-home orders until May 8.
Gov. Jared Polis said Monday that the state at large was ready to move on from the stay-at-home order because both new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations were trending down. The virus is not spreading as quickly as it was previously, he said.
“We no longer have the alarming exponential spread we had a month ago,” he said. He cited data that shows people with coronavirus are spreading it to slightly more than one person each, on average, versus more than three people just a month or so ago.
But he emphasized that the second phase of the response would not be a return to normal life and said the coronavirus still presented significant danger to Colorado residents, requiring caution.
“This is not any kind of ‘mission accomplished’ moment,” he said. “It just means we avoided a catastrophe. We’ve avoided a breach of our healthcare system, we’ve avoided mass loss because we didn’t have enough medical capacity, but we are far from back to normal. In fact, we need to continue even more so to be vigilant, to wear masks when we are outside and in public, so we can move safely through this next phase.”
Colorado had 13,879 confirmed coronavirus cases Monday — although officials believe the actual number of infections is much higher — and 776 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. By Monday, 706 people in Colorado had died after contracting the novel coronavirus.
Under the new public health order, restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, casinos and off-track betting facilities will remain closed. Restaurants and bars can continue to offer take-out and delivery only.
Retail shops can open for curbside delivery now and to in-store customers starting Friday, with strict social distancing and precautions in place for employees, including face coverings and gloves. But shops are encouraged to continue curbside pickup for as long as possible. Services done outside of offices, such as real estate showings, can restart, as can elective or voluntarily medical procedures.
Personal services, like hair salons and massage parlors, can open Friday, so long as the provider and the customer wear masks, no more than 10 people are in the business, and the location is not above 50% of its total occupancy. Services that require a person to remove his or her mask cannot be performed, according to the order.
Office-based businesses can allow 50% of their employees to work in person beginning May 4, but with restrictions, including posting signs about healthy practices, establishing social distancing, limiting meetings to fewer than 10 people, and screening employees for fever or other COVID-19 symptoms.
Employers with more than 50 people working in any one location must also implement cleaning and disinfection of their facilities. They also must close common areas to stop employees from gathering in larger groups.
Employers must also provide “reasonable work accommodations” for employees who face a more severe risk from the novel coronavirus, including those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions. The order encourages employers to allow such workers to telecommute. Vulnerable workers cannot be compelled to go to work during the pandemic, the order says.
Elementary, middle and high schools will continue with remote learning, but colleges, universities and vocational schools now can hold in-person classes for learning that can’t be done remotely. Institutions must allow students to opt-out of in-person classes and must follow social distancing guidelines.
Besides maintaining more stringent rules, local governments can seek variances from the state to allow for fewer restrictions than detailed in the statewide order. Variances will be granted if the localities can show they have a low number of new cases per day or are seeing a 14-day downward trend, along with sign-off from local hospitals and officials. They must have an early warning system in place to identify new patients quickly as they emerge, Polis said.
Eagle County has received such a waiver, and Polis said another was forthcoming for the Western Slope’s Mesa County.
A Weld County official last week said any business in the county could reopen Monday, with social distancing. But Polis said any such reopenings would be illegal, and said Weld County is a hotspot for the virus that has not met the criteria for reopening.
Those who violate the new public health order could face fines or even jail time for recurring violations.
Polis said Monday that there would be greater enforcement of the new public health order than there had been of the stay-at-home order, particularly for businesses and employers. Businesses that violate the order will be issued cease-and-desist letters and could have their licenses revoked, Polis said.
“We are moving from a phase of safe at home, where there was no real enforcement of the stay-at-home order — people were not arrested and charged when they were out and about in their neighborhoods — to a phase where enforcement is absolutely critical,” he said. “At the county level, if needed, but also at the business level.”
Although Polis emphasized Monday that each county and locality within the state is facing a slightly different situation with the pandemic, and that locals should have the flexibility to respond accordingly, he also joined the governors of California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada in the Western States Pact to create a regional approach to battling the novel coronavirus.
The pact of like-minded Democratic governors is intended to help the states slow the spread of COVID-19 across state lines.
In Colorado, if residents fail to follow the new social distancing guidelines, or if the state sees a large uptick in new cases, officials could tighten the restrictions or reissue a stay-at-home order, Polis said.
“The bottom line is, our state is counting on us to be smart to save lives and livelihoods,” he said.
Staff writer Jon Murray contributed to this story.
This content was originally published here.