Facing rising numbers of new coronavirus cases and deaths, Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday ordered employers at non-critical workplaces to cut their in-person workforces by at least 50%, implored residents to go out for groceries and exercise less frequently, and advised the elderly and other vulnerable people to stay put indoors unless they need medical help.
But Polis at the podium in Colorado’s Emergency Operations Center steered clear of issuing an executive shelter-in-place order as governors in California, Illinois and elsewhere have done — because such orders legally cannot be enforced, he said, and because slowing the virus in time to prevent a health system collapse will require greater motivation sustained over weeks than the threat of arrest can instill.
“There is a far greater enforcement authority. His name is the grim reaper,” Polis said.
“We want to articulate this in a way that we get the broadest participation and buy-in.”
Polis urged Colorado residents to adhere to stricter guidelines as the only practical way to stop the intensifying person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus in a pandemic situation where he said a failed federal public health response has put the burden on states to ensure survival and minimize deaths. Colorado currently lacks sufficient hospital beds and 7,000 ventilators that, based on latest projections for the course of the virus, would be necessary during an anticipated surge at the peak.
“If we do not do more to slow the spread of the virus, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” he said. “We could be forced into a wartime triage situation.”
For elders and those with chronic health conditions, Polis said: “Don’t leave your home at all unless you need medical attention.”
This appeal Sunday evening as key state government officials and private sector partners gathered with Polis marked the most urgent appeal yet to residents for collective action to slow the spread of the virus. The number of new cases increased by 228 over the weekend, including 116 more people announced Sunday, with 591 confirmed cases and 58 hospitalizations. The death Sunday of a woman in her 70s in Weld County brought the state’s death toll to seven.
State health officials said they expect the virus, now infecting residents in more than 20 counties, likely will spread to all 64 counties. They say they think the number of infections is many times higher than the confirmed cases at present. This highly contagious new coronavirus causes COVID-19, a potentially deadly respiratory disease. Colorado officials indicated they recently discovered five person-to-person outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities. Details weren’t provided.
County health officials have reported at least six COVID-19 cases in the Laurel Manor Care Center, a senior living center in Colorado Springs. A resident and a staffer at North Shore Health and Rehab Facility in Loveland have tested positive.
More than 5,400 people have been tested for the new coronavirus in Colorado since early March. Those who tested positive Sunday included a health care worker in her 60s at the Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson and an El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy.
A lawyer who recently visited multiple courtrooms in the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver also tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, according to a statement from Second Judicial District Chief Judge Michael Martinez.
The courthouse will be closed Monday and Tuesday for cleaning, Martinez said, and all hearings scheduled this week in Denver District Court will be suspended. Martinez said court officials will use the week to figure out how to run “virtual courtrooms” where parties participate while not present.
The lawyer apparently has experienced minor symptoms and has been quarantined.
Colorado’s focus on Sunday intensified with an urgent focus on workplaces, the latest attempt to help halt the person-to-person spread of coronavirus by enabling greater social distance between people statewide.
Polis’ executive order directs all employers to “implement tele-work options to the greatest extent possible” — shifting work to homes.
If tele-work isn’t practical or possible, officials said, employers should adjust work schedules to reduce the number of employees, enabling increased distances from other workers, and keep employees on payrolls. The idea was for employers to make sure no employee is closer than 6 feet from another employee.
State agency officials planned to meet this requirement, starting Monday.
Other employers must comply starting Tuesday, continuing through April 10.
Workplaces deemed “critical” in the executive order were exempt, including the following: health care operations, utilities and other essential infrastructure, hotels, organizations that help disadvantaged residents, food supply companies, some manufacturing, grocery stores and other essential retail, news organizations, financial institutions, and some construction and defense operations, police, fire and public safety operations, vendors of critical services and products, child care and some government operations.
Workplaces where employers ensure 6-foot spacing between employees also were to be exempt.
“Anybody who can get to 80% to 90% tele-working, please do that,” Polis said in announcing the order.
Grocery stores increasingly will be stocked, state officials said. And Polis in urging residents to shop less frequently — once a week, ideally once a month — will find the stores “a safer environment several days from now.”
Coloradans compelled to exercise should consider shifting the time of day and location so as to stay away from others. Perhaps jogging twice a week rather than three times a week, he suggested.
Coronavirus symptoms have been mild in most cases. But the virus spreads so easily that authorities increasingly are worried that health care providers won’t be able to keep up with a surge of infected patients.
“We are rapidly scaling up hospital beds,” Polis said Sunday. “We want to give ourselves more time.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has arrived in Colorado, as in other states, to help states respond. It was unclear whether the engineers would be deployed in construction of hospital space, as was planned in New York, and staffers couldn’t immediately provide an estimate of how many beds Colorado lacks to be able to deal with a surge.
Across Colorado and the nation, efforts to slow the spread of the virus over the last 10 days have led to wide disruptions as officials urge residents to stay home and away from others as much as possible.
Colorado health officials have banned gatherings of 10 or more people. Schools and universities are scrambling to conduct classes online. Restaurants and bars are limited to only take-out service.
Over the past week, roughly 1% of the workers in Colorado filed for unemployment benefits. Many of those working are doing so from home.
On Sunday, Attorney General Phil Weiser backed Gov. Jared Polis’ call for delaying evictions during the pandemic.
Ski resorts have closed down. Some national parks have closed. Hard-hit resort communities are increasing precautions. Monday at noon, Estes Park officials said the town’s hotels, motels and rental units will close until April 17 — following similar efforts in Gunnison, Summit and San Miguel counties.
On Sunday evening, Polis also launched an “innovation response team” in an effort to ramp up testing for the virus and find new ways to deliver services to residents — such as groceries and Wi-Fi capabilities — to enable better staying put.
Colorado officials were basing their response on actions taken to reduce virus harm in South Korea and Taiwan. Polis pointed to Italy as a disaster.
Due to a failed federal public health response, “the states will be taking on an unprecedented burden,” he said. “The ideal response would have been to have mass testing in place months ago.”
This content was originally published here.