On day 17 of Colorado’s stay-at-home order, La Plata County appears to be abiding by the law, even though the law is difficult to enforce.
La Plata County has 43 cases of COVID-19, but public health officials will not know the true extent of the virus’ spread until results arrive from the widespread community testing, available since Friday. When Gov. Jared Polis extended Colorado’s stay-at-home order Monday, he said social distancing was the only chance to prevent catastrophic loss of life. In Durango, grocery stores, customers and law enforcement are prioritizing safety.
“The challenge that we’re all facing is following the order so that we can protect ourselves more broadly from this virus and keep the numbers down,” said Ray Shupe, Durango Police Department spokesperson. “It’s not an easy thing to do ... but I think it’s having a positive effect on this virus.”
In the first weeks of the virus’ spread in the county, people converged on grocery stores to buy stockpiles of groceries and toilet paper. At that time, most grocery store employees did not wear masks or gloves and neither did the customers.
Since then, the social-distancing efforts at Walmart, City Market and Albertsons have increased.
City Market and Albertsons both pasted social-distancing cues on the floors, but Walmart did not. All three stores added plastic screens to cash registers to shield cashiers and sanitized their grocery carts. Most customers at the stores wore masks.
Employees ranged in their protective gear at each store. Most used either masks or gloves; others, nothing.
At Walmart, more employees wore gloves than masks. One employee said they cleaned the self-checkout computers once per hour.
“People say another virus is going to kill us every year,” said one employee, Justin Elmendorf, through a mask. “I’m not saying it’s not serious, but some people are taking it to the extreme.”
Albertsons hired an employee just to sanitize the store every half hour. Cashiers cleaned their work stations and self-checkout after most customers.
At City Market, employees wash their hands and sanitize their stations every half hour.
“I feel pretty safe here,” said Lisa Williams, Albertsons customer service manager. “I’m not fearful, especially with the way we sanitize.”
Highway trafficLa Plata County residents are supposed to stay at home, unless they have an essential reason to leave, like getting food, gas, medicine or traveling to work.
But traffic on U.S. Highway 160 seems steady. Has the order really had an impact?
Across Colorado and in Durango, the volume of traffic on U.S. highways decreased since March 1, according to Colorado Department of Transportation data.
Traffic volume plummeted to zero March 24, the day after San Juan Basin Public Health declared its stay-at-home advisory, according to data from the intersection of Highway 160 and Larry Valdez Way.
But after the stay-at-home order, March 26, traffic volume increased to between 10,000 and 20,000 vehicles each day. Overall, that’s about half the number of vehicles on March 1 and a 49% decrease from 2019.
Essential, really?It’s nearly impossible to tell if all of those vehicles are traveling for an essential purpose.
If someone is traveling for a nonessential purpose, he or she could receive a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year. But residents could say they are traveling for an essential purpose, when they aren’t.
“It’s a little easier to differentiate that at night because Walmart and other grocery stores are closed down early,” Shupe said.
The stay-at-home order is also easier to enforce with businesses, groups congregating in public and social distancing in public, he said.
The DPD has investigated 24 public health order incidents. Of those, 17 incidents took place at businesses, while the others were in public spaces or at residences. The department has not issued any citations.
“Right now, we’re just looking at compliance and education,” Shupe said.
Law enforcement in Bayfield and Ignacio have not issued any warnings or fines, although the Bayfield Marshal’s Office shut down two fitness facilities.