Polis Says State Won’t Enforce Social Distancing But ‘Grim Reaper’ Will, As State Orders More Working From Home

March 22, 2020

On Sunday, Gov. Jared Polis ordered non-essential businesses to reduce the number of people physically present in the workplace by 50 percent, and more if possible.

He said that while the state was not wielding enforcement authority to keep people at home, there is a more severe enforcement authority that should keep people home for themselves and others: "the Grim Reaper."

"It is not the threat of you being brought to prison, it is the threat of death," he said.

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He said that he expects private businesses to comply with the order by Tuesday. Businesses that can prove they are able to keep workers at least six feet apart are allowed to keep their workforce in the office.

The governors of California, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon have issued more restrictive "stay at home" or "shelter in place" orders and New York, Ohio and Connecticut will join that list this week, their governors have announced. Polis has said he is concerned about restrictions on Colorado's economy.

The governor also announced the creation of a new team, intended to find innovative ways to address the crisis. The Innovation Response Team Taskforce will focus on creating statewide testing systems, as well as creating services for people in isolation or quarantine such as WiFi or groceries.

“We have the team in place to gear up the testing and the isolation and the way we can go about this in a targeted way," he said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released new numbers today that show that 591 Coloradans have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The state also confirmed its sixth death, and five outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities. El Paso County's public health department said yesterday that a man in his 70s was the sixth death, but did not offer further details. The number of people tested tops 5,400 and 58 people are hospitalized.

In introducing the new measures, Polis said that medical professionals have advised his administration that at the height of an outbreak, Colorado may need 7,000 more ventilators than it currently has -- and that the federal government had indicated that states were on their own.

He said that, for example, while the federal government had supplied Colorado with 49,000 masks, but that the state's daily usage is close to 70,000.

"We as states need to play an unprecedented role in securing our own supply chains," he said.

"I'm furious that as a leader of the free world, we're being forced to close down restaurants and businesses and bars, because the United States, unlike South Korea, unlike Taiwan, did not have enough tests."

Polis also highlighted the gravity of the crisis, saying, “We fully expect it will reach all 64 counties.”

He also said that he recognized the heavy measures in place could not be sustained for too long without severe economic effects. "This can't last forever."

The governor said that "extreme social distancing measures" were critical, temporarily, in the state's efforts to contain COVID-19, saying he hoped the state's path to containment could imitate that of South Korea and Taiwan, calling it "a Colorado paradigm."

"The most valuable resource we have is time and we need to create more of it by slowing down the spread of the virus in Colorado," he said.

He said the alternative is a much bleaker potential course like what Italy is currently experiencing, "having to choose who gets a ventilator, bed and who doesn’t, who lives and who doesn’t."

"It’s why you need to only shop for groceries once a week and not go out with friends," Polis said.

In addressing social distancing, Polis said that people needed to be smart, giving the examples of jogging outside at off times rather than popular times, to reduce potential exposure.

"Use the parks, but only with the social spacing, not gathering with people, jogging less, using them at a different hour than you usually use them," he said.

He said he hoped that municipalities might alter the hours at which the public can use parks.

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