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San Juan Basin Public Health on Tuesday announced it will delay the reopening of some businesses and workplaces until May 8, a move that extends restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, even as other parts of the state relax similar limits.
Gov. Jared Polis this week began lifting restrictions set in March, including a stay-at-home order. On Monday, retail stores could offer curbside pickup and real estate agencies could hold one-on-one showings.
Under Polis’ newest order, called “safer at home,” a range of businesses such as salons, tattoo parlors and dog groomers will be allowed to reopen Friday. And nonessential office-based businesses will able to go back to 50% capacity starting Monday, May 4.
The governor left it up to individual counties to decide if they wanted to enact less restrictive or more restrictive policies, or follow his safer-at-home directive.
SJBPH, like several Colorado communities, decided to enact stricter guidelines, calling the new local health order “Safer La Plata,” which delays most reopenings until May 8.
“Safer La Plata” did not undo restrictions lifted Monday under the state’s “safer-at-home” policy, including the ability for retailers to do curbside and delivery business, real estate showings and nonessential medical and dental procedures.
But it did delay the reopening of personal services such as salons, tattoo parlors, dog groomers, massage and personal training until May 8.
Retail and nonessential offices also may reopen to in-person visits starting May 8, with “strict social distancing and other precautions.” Businesses and workplaces will be required to self-certify they understand and will carry out the precautions to reopen. Nonessential office-based businesses can reopen with 50% or fewer of their workforce in office starting May 8. The order strongly encourages businesses to allow employees to telecommute as much as possible.
“If you can do your business with less than 50% of your workforce in-person, you should,” said Brian Devine, a planning chief for SJBPH’s coronavirus response.
The Safer La Plata public health order does not change state guidelines for vulnerable populations, such as people 65 years or older, who are “strongly advised” to stay at home until further notice and cannot be forced to return to work in-person, Devine said.
Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH, said the driving factor in the decision is the fact that the outbreak is hitting residents hard in northern New Mexico, where many people commute to work from La Plata County, and vice versa.
As of Tuesday, La Plata County was reporting just 61 positive cases and no confirmed deaths. In San Juan County, New Mexico, however, there have been more than 460 confirmed cases and 35 deaths.
“While we’re showing really stable numbers in La Plata County … there isn’t a wall around our city,” Jollon said. “And we don’t want to put either of our communities in a riskier situation.”
Local health officials also believe the delayed opening will give businesses time to learn new guidelines set forth in the public health order to ensure best practices and social distancing within stores to protect employees and customers.
“We’re very much on target for (May 8), but if we had something like a doubling of cases here over the next week … we’d have to have this conversation again,” Jollon said.
The decision to delay seems to have buy-in from Durango’s top business leaders, at least according to comments included in the health department’s announcement Tuesday morning.
“We have one opportunity to get this right,” said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. “We all need to understand there is a reason for the opening directives and procedures. I compare this to a faucet slowly being turned on and not opening a floodgate.”
Roger Zalneraitis, economic development manager at the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, said the tribe is continuing its own stay-at-home order, and SJBPH’s delayed reopening more closely aligns with the tribe’s approach.
“We appreciate San Juan Basin Public Health’s reasoned decision-making on the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zalneraitis said.
Although SJBPH serves Archuleta and La Plata counties, Archuleta County will move to Polis’ safer-at-home model. Local health officials say Archuleta County does not have the same crossover with northern New Mexico.
La Plata County is not alone in extending stricter guidelines to battle the coronavirus. Around seven counties, mostly along the Front Range, have extended some form of the original stay-at-home order.
But still, Jollon said she expects that some businesses eligible to reopen won’t. She said Polis’ order was issued on short notice, and many stores were unable to meet its requirements in time to open this week.
“We’ve heard a lot of that from the business community, that just because they can reopen doesn’t mean they will until we have a better handle, all of us, on what’s happening with this infection,” she said.