Colorado issues statewide stay-at-home order: What's allowed and not allowed?

On the heels of orders in five metro counties, state announces order to last through at least April 11


After about two weeks of escalating orders and guidance from the state, and more Colorado counties issuing their own stay-at-home orders, Gov. Jared Polis invoked Americans' sacrifice in World War II as he announced a statewide stay-at-home order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Referencing how Americans gave up normal life to support that war effort, Polis framed the spread of coronavirus in dire, historical terms.

“Americans have been called on to serve our country time and time again,” Polis said at a March 25 late-afternoon news conference. “You have the chance to be a hero and save thousands of lives by staying home.”

As of March 25, Colorado's tally of COVID-19 cases rose to nearly 1,100 across 36 counties, with more than 8,000 people tested and 19 deaths.

Earlier on March 25, three Denver metro area public health departments issued stay-at-home orders, covering Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson and Boulder counties — effectively putting most of the metro area under such restrictions as Denver's stay-at-home order continued.

The next afternoon, those public health departments rescinded their orders and adopted the state's rules to avoid confusion, they said in a joint news release.

The statewide stay-at-home order will go into effect at 6 a.m. March 26 and last through at least April 11.

What does the order say?

Under the order, Coloradans must stay home except to leave for certain necessities, such as shopping for groceries or seeking medical care. Caring for a family member or pet in another household, or for livestock at a location other than a person's home, are allowed.

Caring for a vulnerable person — anyone who is older than 60, has a disability or has a serious underlying health condition — at another household is also permitted.

The statewide order prohibits all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside of a "residence," except for during "essential" activities. Gatherings of members living in the same residence are allowed.

Other allowed actions include obtaining medication or medical supplies, collecting supplies needed to work from home,

The order also permits walking, biking or other outdoor activity. People must remain at least 6 feet apart from others.

State parks will remain open, but all playgrounds, picnic areas and "other similar areas conducive to public gathering" will be closed.

People at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — adults 60 or older and people with serious underlying conditions — and those who are sick must not leave home except to receive medical care. Those with symptoms of COVID-19 must self-isolate until their symptoms cease or until they have a negative test result.

People also may travel to collect materials for online class or other remote learning, or to receive meals or any related services from educational institutions. Travel to provide or access "necessary" activities or "critical businesses" is permitted.

Employees in “critical businesses” may still go to work, but those businesses must comply with social distancing requirements, which generally means staying 6 feet apart from others.

Grocery stores and liquor stores will remain open, and restaurants and bars will continue to deliver and sell take-out. The state's list of other “critical” businesses includes industries such as health care, infrastructure, utilities, agriculture, banks, news media, firearms stores, in-person pastoral services for individuals in crisis or in need of end-of-life services, homeless shelters and food banks, and many more.

The state updated the "critical" list the morning of March 26 to include K-12 public and private schools — and colleges and universities — to provide meals, online class and other services. Other exceptions were also added.

The update clarified that houses of worship may remain open but are encouraged to use electronic platforms to conduct services or to conduct smaller, more frequent services with 10 or fewer congregants to follow the requirement to stay at least 6 feet apart from others.

Preventing broader pain

Polis framed the urgency of the situation both in terms of dire economic and human costs, noting that thousands of residents of Italy, “from all stripes of society,” have died from COVID-19, “and we can't allow thousands of Coloradans to meet the same fate,” he said.

“It could be your aunt or your uncle, it could be your parent ... it could be your own life that is saved by this strong action we are taking now,” Polis said.

The governor also argued the economic devastation to the state would be far greater than it is now if Colorado doesn't apply the order now and that the action will allow for “returning to normal sooner rather than later.”

For those who have lost jobs or are feeling other economic effects of the pandemic, Polis reassured them that federal action is on the way to ease the pain — cash payments of more than $1,000 to Americans could be en route after congressional action in the coming days.

The governor acknowledged on March 22 that it's unrealistic for law enforcement to ensure people are complying with a stay-at-home order, but he hopes that Coloradans' concern for their lives and their loved ones will lead them to comply.

“We are making an appeal for people to do the right thing,” Polis said.

How counties' orders interact with state

While the stay-at-home orders for Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson and Boulder were withdrawn after Colorado issued its statewide order, other counties had already enacted their own orders, too.

Because Colorado is a "home rule" state, local governments can generally be more strict but they can't be less, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But the Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas, intends to seek waivers from the state if necessary to address the  "unique needs of our counties," the department said in a news release.

If the order is "interpreted to be more restrictive than we think is appropriate, we will ask CDPHE to modify their order. If CDPHE is unwilling or unable to modify, we will ask for a waiver," the release said.

Preparing for a surge

The stay-at-home order is intended to buy the state more time to increase its health care capacity before an inevitable surge in patients due to COVID-19, Polis said. Adding more ventilators and health care professionals to the workforce who aren't currently working in the field takes time, he said.

On the question of whether the peak of the virus' spread would come before April 11, when the stay-at-home order ends, Polis said it's possible that the order could last longer and that the state will make that call based on data it continues to gather about the virus' spread.

Polis again mentioned his goal of mass testing much larger numbers of Coloradans to more accurately quarantine — rather than shutting down large sections of society — again referencing South Korea and Taiwan. Such an effort could take weeks or perhaps months to be ready, he has said.

The state intends to take steps to support citizens who are under isolation or quarantine, according to a news release.

COVID-19, Colorado, coronavirus, stay at home order, Jared Polis


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