Governor orders closures

Theaters, casinos and gyms are among businesses that must shut down for 30 days to try to stop spread.

By Meg Wingerter
The Denver Post

Gov. Jared Polis ordered bars, restaurants and other large gathering places across Colorado to close for the next 30 days in an aggressive new push to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as Denver and state leaders warned of dire consequences if the outbreak isn’t brought under control.

The governor’s order Monday afternoon also will shutter theaters, casinos and gyms statewide. Restaurants and bars still will be allowed to offer carryout, delivery and room service options, but no in-person dining.

The closures, economically perilous but designed to stymie person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus, are effective 8 a.m. Tuesday.

“There will be a time when we want to celebrate those local small businesses again,” Polis said at a news conference. “When it’s safe, we want to celebrate in bars and clubs. We want to dine out. That day is not today, it’s not tomorrow, it’s not likely to be next week or the week after.”

Polis also announced all DMV and Department of Revenue offices in Colorado will be closed until April 18. Renewal of driver’s licenses can still be done online.

Colorado now has 160 positive coronavirus cases, an increase of 27 from Sunday. One Coloradan has died of complications of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the virus, and 20 are hospitalized.

The governor’s order followed an announcement by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock earlier in the day that the city would close eateries to in-person dining to slow the spread of the corona-virus. City inspectors will enforce the rule, which expires May 11, he said.

“This is not about a criminal act, this is more of, again, a public safety move,” he said. “While we expect everyone to comply, our inspectors will be active in the city to make sure we’re managing it.”

Hancock said the Denver sheriff’s department will stop booking people accused of lower-level, nonviolent crimes in an effort to allow for greater distance between people in the city’s jail. The court system will continue to operate because people are guaranteed a right to a speedy trial, he

said.

Polis previously had ordered all downhill ski resorts to close for a week starting Saturday, in an attempt to stop extensive spread of the disease in resort communities. State health officials on Sunday urged anyone who visited Pitkin, Gunnison, Summit or Eagle counties in the last week to isolate themselves whether or not they are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

In Summit County, leaders not only prohibited dine-in service at restaurants, but ordered all lodging, including Airbnb rentals, and retail businesses to close — except for banks, grocery stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, pharmacies and gas stations.

Larger restrictions looming

Bigger statewide restrictions could be coming. Public health officials are debating whether to recommend a future order to close “non-essential businesses,” and if they were to do so, how to define which businesses are essential.

As President Donald Trump urged Americans Monday to “avoid discretionary travel” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Denver International Airport confirmed that it’s preparing for the potential of new restrictions that might crimp or halt domestic flights. The number of passengers beginning or ending their trips at DIA is down about 14% compared to March 2019, and is projected to fall further as skiers and students at closed college campuses clear out.

The Trump administration has said officials are considering measures all the way up to a domestic travel shutdown, according to news reports over the weekend. The United States hasn’t gone that far since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“There’s just so much up in the air right now that we’re having all kinds of discussions so we can adapt quickly under any circumstances,” DIA spokeswoman Stacy Stegman said.

The state is urging the public to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gatherings include no more than 50 people, or no more than 10 if the people are high-risk because of advanced age or serious medical conditions.

“At this point, social distancing is one of our greatest tools in flattening the curve and trying to minimize the transmission of the disease,” said Scott Bookman, incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Obviously this is a huge change to how people live day-to-day. We’re continuing to work on guidance and support so people have a greater ability to weather the period of time that they are socially distanced.”

More testing needed

More than 1,200 people have been tested statewide, but that’s not enough to establish how far the virus has spread, Polis said.

“We know that there are likely thousands in Colorado” who have the virus, Polis said.

The state lab, which is running 24/7, can process about 250 tests a day, Bookman said Monday. It’s not clear how many tests are being run through private labs, he said. One private lab accepted a batch of 200 tests from the state but it’s unclear when that lab will be able to accept more. Tests typically take a few days for results to be determined.

The state health department, assisted by the National Guard, will open a drive-up testing site near Telluride on Tuesday, but it will be open only to preselected, high-risk patients, the agency said in a statement Monday.

About 100 people are expected to go through the Telluride site on Tuesday.

Another drive-up testing location will be opened in Routt County in the future, Bookman said. Officials are planning the testing sites for areas where it’s possible that the virus is spreading in the community but where such spread has not yet been confirmed, he said, which is one reason why the testing sites will not be operating in Eagle County, where widespread community transmission is well-documented.

Even with incomplete data, however, there’s no doubt the state will continue to see an increase in cases, said Eric France, chief medical officer at the state health department.

Hancock said Denver’s efforts to respond to COVID-19 could come to a “screeching halt” in a few days if the city doesn’t receive more personal protective equipment, such as face masks. The city also is attempting to set up safe places for homeless people who contract the virus.

Hospitals in mountain communities, where the virus is spreading more widely, already are running short of protective gear and other resources to care for a higher volume of patients, said Dr. Daniel Pastula, a University of Colorado infectious disease specialist who visited some of the harder-hit communities. Facilities along the Front Range also are starting to show strain, he said.

“We’re kind of near capacity in the mountains,” he said. “Anything we can do to slow this down that’s reasonable, we should consider.”

Denver Public Health Director Bob McDonald said city officials are working to ensure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. At the moment, ventilators are available at Denver Health and staff is prepared to ask for more, he said.

Still, it’s unclear just how many cases of the coronavirus could pop up in Denver, McDonald said.

“Everything we’re doing is to stem that tide. What I can tell you is that we have 22 presumptive cases (in the city). Are there more than that? Likely more than that,” McDonald said. “But we’re tracking the available data and doing everything we can to make sure the spread is limited.”

Staff writers Shelly Bradbury, Alex Burness, Jon Murray and Conrad Swanson contributed to this report.

Meg Wingerter: mwingerter

@denverpost.com or

@MegWingerter