As Colorado’s Stay At Home Order Takes Hold, Republican Lawmakers Criticize Polis’ Rollout

Polis Coronavirus Press Conferenve 200327
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters Friday afternoon, March 27, 2020 at sheds South Metro Fire Rescue headquarters in Centennial about the the state’s progress in halting the spread of coronavirus.

Colorado Senate Republicans are expressing disappointment over how Gov. Jared Polis unveiled his “stay at home” executive order, saying it led to significant public confusion. 

In a strongly-worded letter sent to Polis on Friday, the lawmakers wrote that they were left out of the process and called the lack of advance engagement with the general assembly an “unfortunate lapse in leadership.” They also said they hadn’t been provided with enough data to justify the reason he made his decision.

The letter is a sharp departure from the generally positive response to Polis’ handling of the coronavirus response so far. Until now, his actions had been well received from both Republicans and Democrats. This formal letter, signed by 14 Republican Senators, was the first coordinated, public pushback he has received. 

After Polis announced the statewide order Wednesday afternoon, the letter recounts: “Our emails and phones were lit up with an unrelenting torrent of questions regarding whether or not our constituents could go to work, visit their loved ones, feed their cattle, go to the park, or quickly rush to the grocery store.” 

“Sadly, we were unable to quickly ease their minds or quell their fears as the facts, context, and details of your executive order were not presented to our caucus,” the letter continues.

The Republican state Senators also questioned why a “stay at home order” was necessary statewide, when hard-hit hotspots like Summit and Pitkin counties and densely populated areas like Denver already had them in place.

“What is accomplished by closing down the business activity and daily routines of Coloradans living in a county that has fewer than five cases of COVID-19 after weeks of dealing with this crisis?” the letter reads.

Polis answered that question at a press conference Friday afternoon, saying without a statewide shutdown, people in counties with “stay at home” orders would just drive to other places to do their shopping.

“Your county will rapidly go from having a no virus to having … among the highest rates in the state,” he warned, “because of the increased traffic that will occur if we don't take these proactive, preemptive actions.” 

Polis had previously been hesitant to require people to stay home statewide because of what it could do to the economy and employment. In a conference call with state lawmakers less than a week before issuing the order, Polis said he didn’t think these types of orders were viable in a liberal democracy. 

During a media briefing on Friday, Polis took pains to explain the science that led him to believe a “stay at home” order was the best way to control the spread of the virus. He said he hoped he could lift the statewide limits before April 11.

"I think I lead the pack in wanting to end this as soon as possible. This is horrible," Polis said, while urging people to comply with the order, so life could get back to normal. “This is not a competition to see what you can get away with. We rely on people complying with the law."

In response to the GOP letter, Polis’ office said he made his decision in real-time with up-to-date data, he said these decisions have been “painful and heavy” and has emphasized that it was necessary to save lives and prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed. 

“The governor has been clear with Coloradans that this will get worse before it gets better and he will continue to be guided by science, experts and effectively use his temporary authority responsibly to lead our state through this challenging time,” according to a spokesman for the governor.