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Gov. Jared Polis released a new round of restrictions Thursday aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and he added a special health care enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans.
He also extended the period for which restaurants and bars in Colorado are closed to in-person dining. The order is now in effect until at least April 30 – a longer period than when it was first signed into action earlier this week for 30 days. Takeout and delivery are still available from restaurants, but many people have been laid off because of the order.
It all comes on top of an executive order signed Wednesday extending the closure of state ski resorts until at least April 6, limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people and closing schools from March 23 through April 17.
As of Thursday, there were nearly 300 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, reported in the state and four deaths. Polis has said the outbreak will likely last for months and will get worse before it gets better.
“As a state, we are looking at all possible solutions to ensure we are protecting the health and safety of Coloradans and minimizing the duration of the crisis,” Polis said in a statement. “This is a coordinated effort with all state agencies and community partners to utilize every resource available during this difficult time to reduce the severity and duration of the crisis. Together, we will get through this.”
The enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans will begin March 20 and last through April 3. People who need health insurance can buy plans on the state’s Affordable Care Act’s individual exchange – called Connect for Health Colorado – during that span.
Coloradans who have lost their jobs – or who may lose their jobs in the coming weeks – and find themselves without their employer-based coverage are allowed a 60-day window after their employment ends to enroll in an individual health insurance plan. There is no date restriction for people who fall into that category.
Polis also added hair and nail salons, spas, and tattoo and massage parlors to the list of businesses ordered closed by an executive action earlier this week that mandated the shut down of restaurants and bars to in-person dining. Casinos, theaters and gyms have also been ordered to close.
Finally, the governor temporarily suspended all elective and non-essential surgeries and procedures in an effort to preserve important medical equipment, like personal protective gear and ventilators, needed to combat COVID-19.
That order is in effect from March 23 to April 14 and includes an exception for rural and critical-access hospitals.
Requests for comment to San Juan Basin Health Department were not immediately returned late Thursday, but in a statement, the health department said it had anticipated more stringent closures and supports the orders.
“These are in alignment with what SJBPH feels is needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the statement reads.
On Wednesday, Polis signed an executive order suspending in-person learning in public and private schools across the state during that period. The order also directs the commissioner of education to issue guidance to support school systems in “developing and implementing plans to assist families and students in accessing alternative learning, providing free and reduced lunch and breakfast, and offering waivers for instructional time as appropriate.”
“Children can serve as a vector for the disease, increasing the risk of disease to older adults and individuals with certain underlying conditions, who are more likely to experience severe symptoms and even death,” the governor’s order said.
The order barring gatherings of more than 10 people lasts for 30 days and applies to faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals “or any similar event that brings 10 or more people together.” The mandate, which went into effect Thursday, falls in line with recommendations from the White House.
Courts, the state Legislature, airports, bus and train stations, hospitals, retail and grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt from the public-gatherings order.
Polis told reporters Wednesday the idea is to balance short-term economic strife against much broader, more devastating effects that could come if the state isn’t forceful enough now in trying to keep the spread of COVID-19 from spiraling out of control.
“If we fail, the economic consequences of the virus running rampant will be far worse in the medium and long term,” he said. “We’re going to take the steps we need to avoid catastrophic loss of life.”
Eagle, Gunnison and San Miguel counties have all but shut down in a desperate attempt to halt the virus, which is quickly spreading through their communities. The areas have limited – or, in San Miguel County’s case, no – hospital space.
Anyone who violates the order limiting gatherings in the state faces a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
As for the order extending the closure of ski season, most resorts in Colorado shut down in early April. Some, like Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge, have stayed open into May or beyond, but not after a prolonged closure like the one prescribed by Polis’ order.
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