As a team of Denver Post reporters detail for us, yesterday Gov. Jared Polis outlined a process by which the state of Colorado will begin to reopen the mostly-shuttered economy at the end of April after over a month of mandatory stay-at-home orders in place–orders which appear to have definitively turned the tide against the COVID-19 pandemic, though at great cost to the economy here in Colorado and across the globe.
The first stage of Colorado’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic is ending, but the second phase will be far from a return to normal life, Gov. Jared Polis said Monday as he laid out expectations for how the state will reopen after his stay-at-home order expires Sunday.
Coloradans will need to shift from staying at home to being “safer at home,” Polis said, outlining how the state’s order will morph into strong recommendations for residents with restrictions on the businesses that are able to slowly reopen in the coming weeks.
Polis said he expects retailers will have the option to reopen with curbside pickup beginning April 27, and then will be able to reopen to limited numbers of in-store customers on May 1, as long as they have social-distancing policies in place.
As Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Springs Gazette reports, there is increasing evidence that the stay-at-home orders have been highly effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in this state:
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Colorado School of Public Health presented that data in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. “We did well,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. “We’ve reduced the contact rate to 75%” and the curve — a measure that shows the peak of infections and when that peak takes place — is going down.
Despite the news that social distancing has begun to show results, the officials said that 65,000 to 75,000 Coloradans likely have contracted COVID-19, well above the 10,098 cases listed by CDPHE for Monday.
But as 9NEWS’ Kyle Clark pointed out last night, there’s a problem: one of the key preconditions previously voiced by Gov. Polis himself for reopening the economy as well as the consensus of health experts fighting the pandemic, widespread available testing for the disease to enable informed decisions from the statewide to the individual level, has not been met.
This undeniable change in the stated criteria for reopening Colorado’s economy cannot help but create legitimate concern that the pressure to do so is overcoming the best advice of public health officials battling the pandemic, which is to keep stay-at-home orders in place until ubiquitous testing and the containment strategies testing facilitates become feasible. As history shows, premature loosening of restrictions on public life can unleash a second wave of disease worse than the first.
Throughout this unprecedented emergency, we and every other responsible editorial voice have rejected the armchair quarterbacking of qualified experts by politicians who either don’t understand or don’t value the lives at stake. There is no question the tremendous damage being inflicted on the economy by this pandemic is a very serious crisis all its own, and requires intervention no less robust than control of the disease itself. At some level every medical expert also understands that economic devastation is also a public health threat. But the lives that would otherwise be lost have to come first.
What we can say is that the overwhelming trust Coloradans have for Gov. Polis right now shown in available polling is based on his perceived diligence in responding to the crisis, and overriding attention to public health before politics–even when it would be very tempting to focus on the Trump administration’s vast incompetence. Gov. Polis doesn’t need low-information protesters endangering themselves and others to know that getting Colorado functioning again economically is secondary in importance only to stopping the pandemic itself.
These are the hardest calls any leader has to make. The polls say Gov. Polis has earned the trust to make them.
And we must all now hope for the best.