Beginning Sunday, Denver is asking restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. and residents to be home by then in an effort to slow COVID-19. The city says it’s taking the step to avoid another economy-crippling stay-at-home order.
The restrictions will last at least 30 days, Mayor Michael Hancock announced Friday. Some businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and the airport, are exempt from the public health order. Under the order, restaurants can continue curbside pickups and deliveries after 10 p.m.; no businesses can serve alcohol after 10 p.m. and public and private gatherings of any number of people not from the same household are prohibited between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“We are balancing the health and safety of the public while also making sure that we don’t rip away once again the ability of people to care for their families,” Hancock said as he announced the restrictions, which he stopped short of calling a curfew.
“We’re on a very dangerous path,” Hancock said, noting that hospitalizations have increased 40 percent in recent days. “We’re seeing rapid, significant increases in the number of people getting sick and many of those people ending up in the hospital.”
Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver’s Department of Public Health & Environment, said almost 700 new cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours. He said if the pandemic’s current trajectory was not flattened, hospitals could be overwhelmed by the end of December.
The mayor said, “We need everyone working together to reverse this trend.” He repeated the sentence for emphasis.
The 30 days would take Denver past Thanksgiving. McDonald said the restrictions will be suspended on Thanksgiving — but said he won’t be having a large gathering himself on the holiday. The mayor said he typically has as many as 60 guests at his home on Thanksgiving, but would be hosting a much smaller gathering this year. He said different households should avoid getting together.
“We’re not going to sit here and tell you that Thanksgiving is canceled in Denver,” Hancock said. But “we decided that it’s safer for everyone to stay in their own home.”
The mayor issued a stay-at-home order on March 24 that he extended twice before allowing it to expire in May. Last month, the city imposed a tougher mask mandate, ordering people to cover their faces outdoors unless they are alone or with household members who can socially distance from others.
Friday, Hancock said another stay at home order was possible, particularly if the health care system risked being overwhelmed.
McDonald said Denver had “far exceeded” the number of cases that would trigger another stay-at-home order, but said cases were not the only metric.
“The effort here is to do every thing we can to drive numbers down and to stay away from a stay-at-home order,” McDonald said.
Hancock said, “There’s another stay-at-home order in our future unless we act with urgency and care for one another.” The mayor called on Denverites to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid large parties and other gatherings.
“We’re asking folks to be thoughtful,” the mayor said.
Hancock and McDonald expressed particular concern about the actions of younger people who may feel they won’t suffer the worst effects of the disease. Younger people can be infected but not show symptoms, risking passing the disease on to the more vulnerable.
Friday’s order also bans recreational sports, including as part of youth and adult leagues. Spectators are prohibited at all post-secondary and Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned games under the order.
The restrictions announced Friday will be supervised by public health authorities. McDonald said the Department of Public Health & Environment staff would work with law enforcement to enforce the order that people be home by 10 p.m. McDonald said violators could be ticketed and face up to 300 days in jail and fines of up to $999. McDonald said that no one has faced such punishments under other public health orders imposed in the face of the pandemic, and said he expected this more recent order to be the same.
“This is not about issuing tickets,” McDonald said. “It’s not about closing businesses.”
Someone walking a dog or going for a jog after 10 p.m. would not be a concern. A big party at a home or a bar would.
The announcement for Denver came a day after Gov. Jared Polis pleaded with Coloradans to take action as COVID-19 hit new records for infections and hospitalizations.
Polis said, “This is an intervention, cancel your social plans the next few weeks, avoid interacting with others, wear a mask, keep your distance, let’s get through this.”