Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide “stay at home” order Wednesday, requiring the state’s 5.7 million residents to avoid unnecessary travel or mingling with others outside their households.
Polis, who had resisted taking the dramatic step even as cities, counties and local health departments in metro Denver issued similar orders before him, said he was persuaded that a statewide approach was necessary as the coronavirus continued to spread throughout the population.
“Now is the time to stay at home,” Polis said.
Similar to the county-level and regional orders that had been issued by others, Polis’s order will allow grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and other businesses considered essential to remain open. Customers may visit those as long as they maintain social distancing, staying 6 feet away from people not from their households.
The order takes effect Thursday and lasts through April 11.
Polis has also requested a major disaster declaration for Colorado from President Donald Trump, which would allow for additional federal aid to arrive in the state.
“I call upon President Trump to grant this immediately,” Polis said.
Polis made the announcement from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Centennial.
The governor also called on Colorado cities and counties to waive plastic bag fees, encouraging people to use disposable plastic bags to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.
The governor has taken a methodical approach to restricting life for the state's residents since the first case was detected here March 5. He temporarily closed downhill skiing, then ordered the closure of restaurants and bars, then other non-essential services and schools.
But Polis waited, even as groups like family physicians called on him to do more to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor had previously said, "we want to ease restriction on our economy where possible, without endangering public health." Part of the deployed response has been specifically aimed at the economy and tapped former-Denver Mayor Federico Peña to lead an advisory council to blunt any economic downturn.
But in the last five days, the number of Coloradans hospitalized with COVID-19 more than doubled, from 44 to 147, and the number of deaths nearly doubled in a single night, from 11 Tuesday to 19 reported Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, a group of Republicans had criticized Tri-County Health for issuing a stay at home order for residents of Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties. State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, who was among them, said he felt better about an order from Polis than one from an unelected official at a health agency.
"I'm more comfortable with this coming from the governor. Our elected officials are elected for many reasons, but one specifically is to be accountable for these kinds of decisions by the voters who elect them," Holbert said. "It is troubling that this is now statewide — with rural communities, there's different scenarios in different counties — but the governor was elected to that position, he has this authority. I'm going to study the order and listen to constituents as we move forward."
Polis said the state lab had closed a testing backlog, which was requiring as many as six days to return results of tests for COVID-19, making it impossible to track the spread of the illness in real-time.
But the lack of testing kits continues, making it impossible, for now, for the state to gear up testing to the levels Polis would like.
"We have been so disappointed by the lack of testing supplies," Polis said.
He also remains concerned about a lack of ventilator equipment that would be needed for the most critical cases, and the lack of personal protective equipment like masks and shields for healthcare workers. He called on local businesses with manufacturing facilities to be creative in coming up with ways to produce equipment.
"Unfortunately, our latest delivery from the nation's strategic stockpile had zero ventilators," Polis said. "We need your creativity, we need your help."
During his appearance, Polis invoked "The Greatest Generation" who made sacrifices through World War II to help the nation. He also quoted extensively from the Bible's Ecclesiastes 3, which begins:
"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die"
"Now is not the time to die," Polis said. "And it will not happen on our watch."
CPR News Reporter Andrew Kenney contributed to this report