On Day 1 of a statewide stay-at-home order, Durango and La Plata County roads appeared congestion-free, parking lots were all but empty and residents seemed to have heeded Gov. Jared Polis’ mandate – although some couldn’t help but run a few errands.
The statewide order, which took effect at 6 a.m. Thursday, is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Colorado was reporting 1,430 confirmed cases and 24 deaths as of Thursday afternoon.
“Most people are really trying to observe this the best they can,” said Sgt. Will Sweetwood with the Durango Police Department.
Susan Palmer, a Road Runner Transit bus driver, said traffic was “pretty light” on Thursday, although not much different than the average mid-season lull.
Palmer said traffic volume dipped weeks ago, but nothing noticeable since Colorado’s order took effect Thursday morning. Still, downtown Durango seemed like a “ghost town,” she said.
“Mostly, people are limiting themselves to what they need to do,” she said, like getting prescriptions or groceries, or going to work.
According to the order, travel by public transportation is prohibited unless it’s for a necessary activity, like picking up medicine or groceries. People must comply with social distancing requirements on public transit.
Bayfield resident Leann Brubaker said there was a noticeable decline in traffic on U.S. Highway 160 after Polis announced the stay-at-home order Wednesday afternoon. Mill Street, Bayfield’s downtown area, was empty, she said.
Around Ignacio and the Southern Ute reservation, community center parking lots emptied, but more people were out running errands, said another transit driver, Kasey Correia.
“I think (the stay-at-home order) was another shakeup where they’re out buying more things,” she said. Other than that, “it’s just quiet.”
Educate firstOfficers are taking an educational approach to people who may be flouting the order, Sweetwood said.
“The last thing we want to do is say, ‘Hey, you’re going to get in trouble if you don’t follow this,’” he said. “We’re just trying to educate. ... We definitely don’t want an increase in people becoming infected.”
Sweetwood said traffic volumes spike when major announcements are made about new restrictions because residents become concerned they won’t be able go to the grocery store.
“They think they’re going to run out of supplies, and they’re not,” Sweetwood said. “People need to understand the stores are going to stay open the best they can.”
The order closing bars and dine-in restaurants has freed up time on the night shift, allowing officers to do extra patrols around businesses, he said.
“Obviously, we’re going to have that segment of society that might try and take advantage of the situation,” he said. “We’re trying to be proactive versus reactive to everything. ... We want people knowing we’re open for business, 24/7.”
A silver lining for wildlifeWith less human activity, is it possible deer, elk, bears and mountain lions will feel more emboldened to venture into populated areas?
A picture of three mountain lions striding through north Boulder last week has some people wondering if that could be the case.
“It’s impossible to say,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The animals will follow their cyclical patterns, he said. Deer and elk are migrating from lower elevations to the high country, and many mountain lions will follow them. Bears normally come out of hibernation in April.
Day by day for businessRestaurant owners and other business owners are trying to support their staff with no idea what the future holds.
Joe Lloyd, owner of Durango Joes Coffee, issued “essential worker letters” on Thursday. The letters were given to all of his remaining employees – about 125 are on the job, albeit with the hours cut at least 50%.
“We wanted them to have something in case they are pulled over by police or authorities. It’s something they can ID themselves as an essential worker to an authority that they can be out and about going to work,” he said.
Dave Woodruff, general manager of El Moro Tavern and president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, Durango chapter, said the dearth of business related to COVID-19 restrictions has forced the closure of El Moro until at least May 1.
He worries the stay-at-home order will only further reduce traffic at Durango’s restaurants.
Most established restaurants, Woodruff said, will weather the hit. It will be the newest restaurants most likely to close because of business restrictions. Polis has ordered all restaurants in the state closed to dine-in business until April 30.
“There’s no telling how many restaurants we’ll lose. Could it be 10 to 20%? I don’t think that’s out of the question,” he said.
Like in Durango, restaurants in Vallecito, Bayfield and Ignacio are either closing their doors or trying to offer take-out services to stay open.
Brenda’s Old West Cafe, a local hub, dropped from 20 employees each week to three people, with help from others as needed, said owner Brenda Hieb.
Bayfield has been courting new businesses to revitalize Mill Street, its downtown area. One new downtown business, Mill Street Bistro, is down to three people to fill food and alcohol take-out orders. They let go of six employees during the layoffs.
In Vallecito, restaurants are trying to stay open while keeping a wary eye on projected summer tourism – their main yearly revenue source.
Takeout didn’t work for Fur Trappers Steakhouse in Vallecito – even local support wasn’t enough, the owners said. It closed its doors March 20.
One small, long-running market and restaurant, Vallecito Lake Market, is still open. The stay-at-home order hasn’t affected its takeout, grocery, liquor or gas purchases.
“People still have to get groceries and essentials to survive,” said owner Roland Healy.
San Juan County, N.M.Two days before Colorado enacted its order, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order and told all nonessential businesses to close by 8 a.m. Tuesday. Certain areas like Albuquerque took the additional measure of closing playgrounds to limit the chance of transmission and spread. But as of Thursday morning, Farmington parks remained open, except for the golf courses, which closed earlier this week.
New Mexico State Police have also been tasked with ensuring businesses comply with the governor’s closure of nonessential businesses.
In response to the governor’s stay-at-home order, Chaco Culture National Historical Park announced it would close its Gallo Campground through April 13 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Farmington Regional Animal Shelter also announced it would discontinue its spay and neuter program to comply with the governor’s order. It was also limiting the number of dog walking volunteers to five people per hour and allowing only one person to enter the shelter at a time to pick up a dog.
Herald Staff Writers Shane Benjamin, Patrick Armijo and Liz Weber contributed to this report.