Colorado’s aggressive response to the novel coronavirus—which has infected 10,106 individuals, hospitalized 1,880, and killed 449—has been successful, Gov. Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy stated in a press conference on Monday afternoon. As such, the governor has outlined a series of steps to relax the current statewide stay-at-home order, while creating another new normal—one that focuses on sustainable social distancing, individual responsibility, and a phased-in reopening of some segments of the state’s economy.

Dubbed “Safer at Home,” the second phase of the state’s coronavirus response will see the reopening of retail stores and personal services, such as salons, tattoo parlors, and dental offices, with strict precautions (more details about the state’s recommended precautions and the types of businesses that can reopen will be released this week). Noncritical offices can also reopen at half capacity, although telecommuting is still encouraged whenever possible. Vulnerable populations, such as those over the age of 60 and with preexisting conditions, should continue to stay home. And everyone, Polis reiterated, should be wearing a face mask when they leave the house.

“It’s not a time for anxiety or fear. It’s a time for caution. It’s a time for informed decisions. It’s a time for calculated risk,” Polis said. “It’s a time to find a way to live in a sustainable way…emotionally, mentally, and economically.”

Polis said that since the stay-at-home order has been in place, the state has sustained about 75 to 80 percent social distancing, on average. As the order is rolled back later this week, the goal is to maintain about 60 to 65 percent social distancing. This means that people can do things like get a haircut, but not return to the level of socialization we were used to in January or February.

Herlihy said that while there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, about 1.1 to 1.3 percent of Coloradans (or 65,000 to 75,000 individuals) are presumed to have been infected with the virus. She presented newly released modeling that showed a variety of scenarios the state could follow, and how each affects our available ICU beds (estimated to be about 2,000). The takeaway? Social distancing at 60 to 65 percent alone won’t be enough to prevent our medical system from being overrun. The ideal scenario combines a variety of interventions, including moderate levels of social distancing for all citizens; high levels of social distancing for older individuals and vulnerable groups; wearing masks; and aggressive case detection and containment. Polis said this model will be updated in real time and guide the state’s decision making moving forward.

Of course, the newly relaxed guidelines are subject to change both at the state level and at the local level. In fact, at the top of his press conference, Polis shared a bit of good news: Eagle County, one of the first areas hit by COVID-19, has petitioned to be exempted from the state’s stay-at-home order. The governor said that after they work out the details, the county should be able to relax guidelines by Thursday or Friday of this week.

Polis hopes to see more local governments take such targeted action, noting that many smaller counties have been able to not only get their outbreaks under control but also ramp up testing quicker than can occur at the state level. “That flexibility will be important,” he said.

The second piece of good news is that the state’s daily hospitalization rate has started to level off and moved slightly downward, which Polis directly attributed to people staying home and wearing masks. However, he said, we’ll be living with the coronavirus “for a while.”

“It’s a marathon, and I want to make sure everyone is ready for that,” Polis said. “Our success will be indicated by our individual responsibility. We’re going to do this together and we’re going to make sure that as we do this, we’re going to protect our most vulnerable.”

Colorado’s “Safer at Home” Guidelines

  • Everyone should continue to stay at home as much as possible.
  • Vulnerable populations should continue to follow stay-at-home guidelines.
  • Additional precautions, including additional testing and mask-wearing, are required at nursing homes and assisted care facilities.
  • Face masks are encouraged anytime you leave home.
  • Gatherings over 10 people are prohibited.
  • Critical businesses will remain open with strict precautions.
  • Retail businesses can open for curbside delivery starting April 27. Those that want to can open to the general public on May 1 with additional social distancing precautions.
  • Noncritical offices can open at 50 percent capacity starting Monday, May 4. Commercial offices are advised to have symptom and temperature checks in place. Telecommuting should be maximized, especially for vulnerable communities. Warehouses and manufacturers are encouraged to run multiple shifts if possible to maintain 50 percent capacity.
  • Childcare will remain open with strict precautions.
  • Education facilities will remain closed.
  • Personal services (such as salons, tattoo parlors, dog groomers, dental offices, personal training, etc.) can reopen with strict precautions.
  • Real estate sales can continue with private showings, but no open houses.
  • Elective surgeries can resume with precautions.
  • Bars, restaurants, and clubs will stay closed for the time being, although a phased-in reopening of restaurants is expected during this phase. Polis said the state wants to wait until data is available from the other relaxed measures before reopening restaurants, but they’ll start preparing for those best practices (which will include reducing density) over the next few weeks.

What’s happening in Denver? 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock had an update of his own on Monday. The good news? City-owned golf courses will reopen on Wednesday, with restrictions. The bad news? It’s likely that the city’s measure barring gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in place beyond May 11, the original date that the mayor stated when the guidelines went into effect on March 17. This means that Denver-area restaurants will not reopen mid-month as many had hoped.

Additionally, the mayor shared that the city has opened a 300-bed temporary shelter for women and transgender individuals at the Denver Coliseum, which follows the 600-bed shelter opened for men at the National Western Center earlier this month.

According to Hancock, the city is planning for a “slow, phased, and controlled reopening.” So far, the city’s stay-at-home order, which runs through April 30, is still on track to be rolled back on time, even as testing—a key tool in tracking the outbreak—continues to be insufficient.

Erin Skarda
Erin Skarda
Erin is a Denver-based writer and the former digital editor for 5280.