The question has been looming for the past several days: Amidst the growing COVID-19 pandemic, will Colorado leaders enforce formal stay-at-home orders? In Denver, the answer is yes. At a press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Hancock announced details of the city’s new order, which takes effect at 5 p.m on Tuesday, March 24 and will last until at least April 10.

“We need to take extra steps to secure the public health of our community,” Hancock said. “This isn’t a recommendation. This is an order. People need to stay at home.”

As of Tuesday, March 24, Colorado had 912 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with 84 hospitalizations and 11 deaths. Denver had 148 confirmed cases, although these numbers are thought to be much higher, as testing is limited (only 7,701 individuals have been tested so far) and some individuals who are infected with the virus may be asymptomatic.

The mayor’s order comes with several exemptions, Hancock explained. Grocery stores will remain open, and Denver residents will be able to leave their homes for essential services like medical care and exercise—so long as proper social distancing is observed. He said the city will not be closing its parks, but rangers will be patrolling to ensure no group activities like volleyball, basketball, or picnics happen. Playgrounds will close, but people will still be able to walk, run, or hike along city trails. Public transportation will remain open. (You can find the full list of exemptions here.)

Restaurants will be allowed to continue takeout and delivery service, Hancock said. At the time of the announcement, liquor stores and recreational marijuana dispensaries were not considered essential, but the city amended the ordinance Monday afternoon after large groups of people raced to buy alcohol and marijuana products. Liquor stores and dispensaries will remain open so long as social distancing protocols are strictly followed.

Construction sites, too, will receive exemptions. The mayor described construction as the backbone of the economy and said transportation, public works, and affordable housing projects in particular must move forward.

Hancock said the city will enforce the order by any means necessary, including deploying the police, but he hopes Denver residents will show prudence before authorities have to step in.

“We need voluntary compliance. We’ll do everything to educate and inform, and encourage residents to stay home,” he said. “This is not about arresting people and giving citations. That is the last step for us.”

The order is similar to those issued across the country in recent days by many states and cities. However, Hancock’s announcement was not accompanied by a statewide stay-at-home order by the governor. At a press conference on Sunday, Gov. Jared Polis was hesitant to say whether Colorado was moving toward such a decision, and he instead issued an order for nonessential businesses to reduce their workforce below 50 percent across the state. Emails to his staff asking for an update in light of Mayor Hancock’s order were not returned by time of publication, but Gov. Polis tweeted from his personal account on Monday afternoon that he supports the local actions taken by Hancock, and other local officials. Currently, San Miguel, Eagle, Gunnison, and Summit counties all have some version of a stay-at-home order in place.

This is a developing story. Last updated 3/25/20 at 9 a.m. 

(MORE: See 5280‘s full coverage of COVID-19)

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.