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CENTENNIAL – Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday implored — but did not go so far as to require — Coloradans to go out in public only if absolutely necessary as he tries to stem the spread of the new coronavirus and prevent the state’s health care system from being overwhelmed in the coming days and weeks.
Polis said there aren’t enough law enforcement resources to enforce a decree – such as a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home mandate – ordering people to limit their time outside their homes. He argued that the risk of death should be motivating enough to keep people from venturing into public more than they need to.
“What will inspire people to do this, and what will lead people to do this, is not fear of a policeman taking you to jail,” he said. “It is fear of the Grim Reaper.”
Polis sounded exasperated as he spoke to reporters on Sunday at the state’s emergency operations center in Centennial. It has been less than three weeks since Colorado’s first coronavirus case was announced and already people’s lives have been significantly upended by the outbreak.
As he was addressing the media, news broke that a seventh person in Colorado has died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Colorado’s coronavirus case count is nearing 600 and Polis said if the current trajectory continues his advisers have warned him the state could be 7,000 ventilators short of their need to care for the critically ill.
“We fully expect that the number of Coloradans who have COVID-19 is in the thousands,” Polis said. “Only a fraction of that have been identified. … The situation grows more serious by the day.”
Polis’ decision not to require Coloradans to stay inside represented a flash of his libertarian streak. But it also served as a break from the orders he has issued in the past week – shuttering restaurants, bars, ski areas and schools and limiting how many people can gather – as he sacrificed the state’s economy in the short term to prevent even more severe damage down the line.
“We want to articulate in the way that is likely to get the broadest popular public participation and buy in for this physical separation and social distancing,” Polis said. “I think that people need to know the right thing to do. They need to look at the facts and data. And they need to do it.”
Polis issued what he called “the strongest possible guidance” to Coloradans, including that at-risk people (age 60 and up) and anyone with a preexisting condition stay in their home unless they need medical care. He told other people to cut down on their visits to supermarkets and other stores and limit their time outdoors for activities like walking and jogging.
If you jog twice a week now, Polis said, do it only once a week. If you go to the grocery store three times a week normally, do it only once.
Polis didn’t answer a question about what steps he may take in the future if the orders and guidance he has issued don’t slow coronavirus’ breakneck spread in Colorado. But he admitted that he and his team have been playing catch up.
“The data we have is lagging data,” he said. “We have a number of infections, but we think the number of infections is many times higher than that. We have the number of hospitalizations, but that’s a number based on people that might have contracted the virus 10 days ago or 12 days ago. … We can’t go on making decisions based on where we were seven to 10 days ago. We have to get to the point where we are making decisions based on where we will be seven to 10 days from now.”
Polis on Sunday did unveil one order: Starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday non-critical Colorado employers must reduce their in-person workforces by at least 50% until at least April 10.
There are exceptions for any employer that can ensure their workers are no closer than 6 feet away from each other. A number of industries deemed “critical” are also exempt from the mandate. They include:
Health careInfrastructureUtilitiesManufacturingRestaurants and barsTrash collectionMail servicesThe news mediaHotelsGas stationsMedical marijuana dispensariesBanksHomeless sheltersLaw enforcement and fire preventionChild carePolis said that any employer – critical or non-critical – that can reduce the number of people coming into their offices should do so to the greatest possible degree.
Polis blasts federal responseThe governor’s news conference Sunday was delayed by about two hours as he waited for a briefing by President Donald Trump to conclude. When Polis finally began his remarks, he took the Trump administration to task for its response to coronavirus.
“In many ways, I couldn’t have imagined that our nation’s response would have been so slow,” he said. “I’m furious that as a leader of the free world we are being forced to close down restaurants and business and bars because the United States – unlike South Korea, unlike Taiwan – didn’t have enough tests, enough personal protection equipment, enough ventilators to properly manage care for those who would get this virus.”
Polis said Trump’s remarks that governors need to procure ventilators on their own effectively was a signal that Colorado is going to mostly have to go it alone.
“It’s clear to me and my administration that … we as states need to play an unprecedented role in securing our own supply chains of personal protective equipment and ventilators to deal with the virus,” he said. “And we are. And we will.”
Polis stressed that efforts to battle the virus at the state level and with locally based federal partners have been “robustly bipartisan.” He said he’s been speaking with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner “multiple times every day.”
But, as a whole, “we’re getting very limited assistance from the federal government,” Polis said. For instance, he said Colorado hasn’t even received enough protective masks from the Trump administration to meet one day’s need.
As a result, Polis is looking to Colorado companies to fill the gap and has created an innovation team led by Matt Blumberg, a technology entrepreneur who founded the Broomfield-based email technology company Return Path.
Intertech Medical, a company run by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg, is working on test kits. A Greeley plastics business is making face shields. And a third company is pumping out hand sanitizer for hospitals.
“At this point, while anything the federal government can provide us is helpful, we know that we can’t count on that to help meet the need,” he said.