EDITORIAL: Asking isn’t working — state, local officials must unify, enforce stay-home orders


New York City is about to become a pandemic nightmare. We can’t allow Colorado to get there.

New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said this week that experts are expecting a need for 30,000 ventilators to treat the sickest there. The state is tens of thousands of ventilators short, and that’s only the beginning of problems and shortages plaguing the Empire State and, possibly, most states.

Colorado, and especially the metro area, could easily — easily — face a similar catastrophe, experts say. The only thing that will keep regional hospitals from being overwhelmed with critically ill and dying patients is slowing the spread of the virus and ensuring older and sicker residents aren’t exposed.

Too much of the time, that’s not happening across the metro area.

Social distancing and stay-home pleas by Gov. Jared Polis and endless other leaders have been discounted or ignored. Medical and emergency officials and leaders have repeatedly asked everyone in the metro area to stay home, but, clearly, hundreds of thousands won’t. Polis has ordered businesses to cut in-person workforces by half. Full parking lots at myriad businesses make it obvious they have not. Metro traffic, parties, panic-buying lines and crowded stores make it clear that voluntarily reducing personal contact outside of homes is a lost cause. Too many people believe they should be exempt from these critical demands.

Federal and local government officials must also ensure funding and programs to help make these temporary and crucial stay-home mandates possible. Both efforts must be implemented and coordinated. But slowing the spread of the new coronavirus is paramount.

The stakes are too high to shrug it off. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was right to do more to stop dangerous behaviors that too many people won’t curtail themselves. His order this week to essentially force people to stay home is warranted. The rafts of self-indulgent, entitled, ignorant or simply thoughtless people in the metro area make it clear we cannot protect the lives of patients, medical workers, rescuers and even the foolish without seriously imposing temporary restrictions.

At press time, Tri-County Health, which essentially is empowered to make similar decisions for three massive metro counties, all which overlap Aurora, will have issued similar orders to Denver’s.

We agree with regional experts who insist that it’s critical that all metro-area counties do the same thing, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

Given the stakes and the challenge in herding non-compliant pandemic scofflaws, we were dismayed that Polis did not use the power of state emergency law to compel select counties to go beyond requests for best behavior. Local counties and municipalities must now step up to enforce behavior that will slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

A command from Polis could efficiently ensure stay-home laws by area health departments are aligned with each other so not to create other problems. At the onset of the Denver ban, Hancock shortsightedly announced he would shut down liquor and pot shops, creating instant panic buying and likely virus transmission.

The gaffe, soon corrected, could easily have endangered the health and lives of those outside of Denver. Local businesses surrounding Denver could have been flooded by consumers simply driving outside the core city to shop.

While thousands of businesses and millions of residents should be lauded for complying with social-distancing protocols, far too many have not.

Mayor Mike Coffman has repeatedly pointed out the need for congruency in stay-home orders area metro regulations. Not only alignment, but enforcement must be coordinated as well.

Arrest is out of the question, but hefty fines for flagrantly violating unified stay-home orders would go a long way in ensuring people see how serious the crisis is and how serious responsible leaders are taking it. 

We realize these governments must carve out myriad exceptions for critical and essential services and workers, the homeless and more. But the state and local government can’t shrug off non-compliance or step back saying, this was the best we can do. It’s not.