Polis vows “whatever steps necessary” to protect health as Weld County says it will allow all businesses to reopen


Gov. Jared Polis on Friday fired back at Weld County’s plan to allow any businesses to reopen next week in defiance of the new statewide safer-at-home guidelines, saying he will “take whatever steps necessary” to protect people’s health.

“Weld has had a very high number of cases — it’s a hot spot — and this is not the time to further ease off of restrictions, even beyond what the state is trying to allow,” Polis said on a conference call with reporters. “We want to work with the commissioners — we don’t want to participate in political games.”

On Thursday, the chairman of Weld County’s board of county commissioners said in a radio interview that any businesses that follow social-distancing guidelines can open their doors to the public beginning on Monday. The governor’s safer-at-home plan, which succeeds the stay-at-home order, only allows some businesses to offer curbside delivery beginning Monday, with the ability to open their stores to a small number of in-person customers starting on May 1.

Polis urged Weld County commissioners to submit a plan to the state if they wish to ease some of the state’s restrictions. Counties have the ability to apply for waivers from the state public health department, and must show a steady decrease in case totals and the ability of hospitals to handle the number of patients, among other parameters. Eagle County has received one already, while Mesa County will receive one soon, Polis said.

Weld County has the third-highest total of COVID-19 infections and deaths among counties in Colorado, with a total of 1,263 cases and 70 deaths as of Thursday afternoon. The county also has seen deadly outbreaks at a meat-packing plant and several nursing homes.

Commissioner Mike Freeman told KFKA-1310 AM radio in the Thursday interview that “we just believe that it’s completely unfair to pick winners and losers” in terms of which businesses get to reopen and which need to stay shuttered.

“We’ve been picking winners and losers in this state for the last six weeks, or however long it’s been,” Freeman said. “We made a decision — not us, the governor made a decision of what is an essential business. I have no idea how you determine that pot shops are essential businesses, but those were included in this.”

Counties who are out of compliance can lose state emergency preparedness grants, Polis said, while businesses could lose their licenses to operate.

“If they’re unilaterally saying we’re not going to follow health and safety guidance… that’s endangering lives,” he said. “As governor, I’m going to act to prevent that in Weld County.”

Polis’s warning to Weld County comes as Colorado has now recorded 669 deaths from the new coronavirus — an enormous spike that is the result of state health officials combing through 4- and 5-week-old death certificates, and adding cases that were not initially reported originally as COVID-19 deaths.

At least 12,251 people have tested positive for the virus in Colorado, Polis said, though health officials have previously estimated the real number of cases to be between 65,000 and 75,000.

Polis on Friday also gave updates on several initiatives aimed at reducing the massive health and economic hits Colorado has taken during the pandemic.

One of these measures is aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in senior living facilities through increased testing of nursing home workers. There have been 130 outbreaks around the state, with devastating losses of life.

With help from the National Guard, more than 900 people were tested at facilities in Colorado Springs, Broomfield and Thornton, with 20 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness, Polis said.

The Colorado Mask Project has also delivered 33,000 face coverings to individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations, the governor announced.

Meanwhile, the state has hired 264 health care workers to join the front lines of fight against the virus.

And $4 million has been allocated to Colorado organizations through the state’s COVID Relief Fund, which has raised $12 million.

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