Gov. Polis orders more telecommuting; ‘thousands’ of cases likely in Colorado

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AURORA | As other states and nations order residents to “shelter in place,” Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis is taking a long haul approach to battling the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Sunday that social distancing measures, like working from home and physical separation, will have to be sustainable for weeks or months at at time, not just days.

Polis ordered all non-critical employers to reduce in-person workforce by 50 percent “to the greatest extent possible” starting Tuesday. He said during a news conference that Colorado employers should direct employees to work at home if they are able and stagger shifts to minimize the proximity of people if they aren’t able to work from home.

To lead by example, Polis said the state will make necessary changes to abide by the order by Monday morning. Critical workers, like prison guards, will be exempt from the rule, as will a handful of private industries the governor has deemed absolutely necessary for emergency response. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks at March 22 press conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center.

Those included industries are healthcare, construction, financial institutions, defense, news media, public safety, and critical jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, retail,  and services, such as agriculture.

“We would never ask the private sector to do what the state couldn’t do,” Polis said of the state’s effort to reduce the number of its 30,000-person workforce working closely together.

Being that the state government is considered an essential service, Polis called on other critical employers to reduce in-person work when possible.

There will be no official enforcement authority to the rule, but Polis warned that the “grim reaper” serves as the ultimate enforcement.

“It is not the threat you being brought to prison,” Polis said. “It’s the threat of the death of your loved ones.”

Polis stopped short of ordering a “shelter in place” measure, like New York and California have, despite some public plea to do so. 

“In all of the places that have issued these (orders) it’s still my understanding that people are still going to the grocery store and still going to work in the critical industries,” he said.

Instead of following the lead of those states, Polis said he is looking at models in places that were able to “flatten the curve,” like South Korea and Taiwan. In the mean time, “we simply don’t have the luxury not to ask,” he added. “The ideal response would have been to have mass testing in place months ago to spot infected people and quarantine for 14 days.”

Coloradans are also being asked to stay at home and reduce contact with others as much as possible. That could mean going to the grocery store just one time per week or jogging through the neighborhood two times per week instead of four, Polis said.

People at high-risk for contracting the virus are being asked to stay in their home at all times unless they need medical care.

Polis was highly critical of the Trump Administration’s confusion and response to the crisis, essentially saying Colorado and other state’s are on their own.

Earlier today, when asked how state’s will get medical supplies increasingly in short supply, Trump told reporters, states will need to determine how to get supplies they need.

Colorado may need 7,000 more ventilators when the outbreak reaches its peak, Polis said. Trump said automakers are gearing up to make such equipment, but experts say that could take months or longer.

While a total of 591 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in 29 of Colorado’s 64 counties as of Sunday, Polis said the number of people who have it is likely in the thousands. Six people have died.

Meanwhile, to help control the spread of the virus near Rocky Mountain National Park, hotels, motels and vacation rentals in and around Estes Park will close starting at noon Monday as the tourism-dependent community discourages people from visiting.

The order is set to stay in effect through April 17. Local workers, long-term residents of short-term facilities and people who are quarantined are exempt.

The age and health of a significant number of the area’s population is at risk of having serious complications from COVID-19. The move came at the urging of Estes Park’s hospital, according to an announcement from the town and Larimer County.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision made with the health of the people in our community in mind — our number one priority,” Estes Park town administrator Travis Machalek said in the statement.

The park closed Friday at the county’s request.

Colorado has seen spread of the disease in areas near its mountain ski resorts, which attract visitors from around around the world. All ski areas have been shut down because of the outbreak.

— The Associated Press added to this report.