Colorado governor issues order to reduce in-person noncritical workforce, asks people to limit movement in public

Aspen medical teams have 'surge plan' in place

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis heads to the podium to address a news conference about the state's efforts to fend off the spread of coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Denver. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday called for all non-critical workplaces to reduce their in-person workforces and mobilized a more targeted state response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Right after the White House briefing on the federal COVID-19 response, Polis held a state briefing to emphasize the need for increased social distancing at all levels, announcing a new executive order that requires all non-critical workplaces to decrease their workforce densities by at least 50% by Tuesday morning. 

The order lasts through April 10 and has a number of exemptions, including health care operations, utilities, critical manufacturers, grocery stores, gas stations, financial institutions, post offices, marijuana dispensary (but only for the sale of medical marijuana or curbside delivery), laundromats and other critical service providers. 

Polis also announced the launch of an Innovation Response Team task force to help mobilize a more targeted state response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado.

This targeted approach includes ramping up mass testing capabilities statewide, creating and obtaining more personal protective equipment and medical resources with help from private companies, and developing technology to both help track the spread of the virus and support people in isolation due to COVID-19.

“As long as I am in a position to lead Colorado’s response, I will continue to take bold steps and do everything in my power to protect our medical workers, limit the severity and duration of this crisis, and save the lives of Coloradans,” Polis said, noting the state government as a workforce will implement the new executive order Monday. 

“In the short term, Coloradans must heed this order and take this gravely and seriously. … The virus is here in our communities and we need to respond.”

As of Sunday evening, Polis said 591 of the tests conducted in Colorado have converted to positive cases of COVID-19, but that state officials feel the true number of cases is in the thousands. 

There have been 58 hospitalizations across the state so far and seven deaths due to COVID-19, Polis said.

FULL ORDER: Gov. Polis’s full executive order issued Sunday

But while Polis said Sunday that the state has received some federal support and will continue to work with the U.S. government to combat COVID-19, he feels Colorado and other states must take response efforts into their own hands. 

“In many ways, I couldn’t have imagined (that) our nation’s response could have been so slow. … I’m furious that as a leader of the free world we’re being forced to close down businesses, restaurants and bars because the United States, unlike South Korea, unlike Taiwan, didn’t have enough tests, enough personal protection equipment or enough ventilators to care for those who would get this virus,” Polis said. 

“But we’re not dwelling on the failures of the past, we’re talking about the path forward for the future. … We as states need to play an unprecedented role in securing our own supply chains of personal protective equipment and ventilators to deal with the virus, and we are and we will.” 

Beyond doing more at the state level through this new executive order and targeted response task force, Polis urged individuals, workplaces — essential and non-essential — and local governments to lead by example and do more to increase and maintain social distancing. 

He encouraged people to limit grocery store visits to once a week, decrease the number of times they exercise outside from say four to five jogs a week to one or two, and urged all employees to “telecommute” as much as logistically possible, suggesting workplaces implement staggered shifts to limit unavoidable in-person interactions. 

I’m announcing an order that requires non-critical workplaces in Colorado to reduce their in-person workforce by 50% due to the presence of COVID-19 in our state.

Posted by Governor Jared Polis on Sunday, March 22, 2020

While Polis said he will do all he can to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus at the state level, he also said it’s going to take action at the individual and community levels to truly mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in Colorado. 

“You know, people have asked, ‘How are you going to enforce this kind of behavior?’” Polis said Sunday. “There’s no enforcement authority here; there’s a far greater authority in these matters and his name is the Grim Reaper. If we don’t abide by these simple common sense protocols, we will be jeopardizing lives.”

In Pitkin County, Bill Linn, assistant Aspen police chief and head of the county’s incident management team in place to combat the local COVID-19 outbreak, didn’t have much to update Sunday night in terms of new county level public health initiatives in the works. 

Linn said the county IMT has put in 12-hour days for the past week and is continuing to implement a holistic approach to its novel coronavirus response, working tirelessly to implement effective mitigation strategies. 

“Tomorrow we plan to hit the ground running,” Linn said Sunday. “We’re in this for the long run and can’t afford to be behind the eight-ball with this. … Everyone is working very, very hard and really passionately to put our best efforts in place.”  

Dave Ressler, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO, echoed similar thoughts about the efforts of AVH’s health care team, noting they’ve worked extremely hard to develop a “surge plan” for a potential increase of hospitalizations due to severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

Ressler said Sunday night he believes there were two additional hospitalizations over the weekend, bringing the total to six so far, that all people who have come in with more severe COVID-19 symptoms are stable and have been discharged or are expected to be soon. 

He also applauded Polis’ approach to increase testing and protect the state’s health care system as a whole from being overloaded, along with the COVID-19 mitigation efforts implemented here in Pitkin County.

Right now, COVID-19 tests are reserved for Pitkin County locals with the most severe COVID-19 symptoms and health care workers who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. 

“The hospital would support expanded testing to better understand the breadth of spread in the community because then we can better understand what to expect as far as hospitalized patients,” Ressler said Sunday. 

“Even though we haven’t seen patients in volume yet, we know the illness is in our community and applaud the community efforts to heed to and support social distancing and hygiene measures.” 

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