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Polis says 'testing alone' won't be enough to reopen Colorado, emphasizes multi-pronged approach

The governor is changing Colorado's COVID-19 response from stay-at-home to safer-at-home, and explained how some businesses can reopen.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) offered more details about how much life will change after the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted on April 27 during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. 

"We have never classified this as any kind of planned reopening," Polis said, emphasizing that April 27 won't look significantly different from April 26. 

The governor clarified some news reports that alleged he warned superintendents that schools will be unable to reopen until 2021, saying that while he can't guarantee class can happen in person this fall, he's optimistic it's possible with the right precautions. 

Polis also offered a new justification for why he is lifting the stay-at-home order without mass testing -- something his office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has previously said was necessary to allow for a reopening of the economy. 

Polis acknowledged he has perhaps not done a good job communicating his guidance about reopening and what models from the CDPHE took into account. He said the models address testing ramping up, but starting at a lower level. 

"We cannot just test and trace our way out," Polis said. 

He said he believes extending the stay-at-home order would not decrease the number of cases, but would instead push the peak of the virus farther into the future and cripple the economy. 

Instead, Polis argued for a multi-pronged approach that combines testing with continued social distancing and people wearing cloth masks -- something that will likely mean no large gatherings, like Rockies games, for months. 

Polis said Colorado is receiving 150,000 tests by the end of the week as well as 150,000 swabs by mid-May. He said the state is also looking into increasing antibody tests to determine the spread of the virus and who has already been infected. 

"While testing is an important tool... it is not a panacea, it doesn't solve this," Polis said. 

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Earlier this week, Polis unveiled his "safer at home" model for life after the stay-at-home order. While bars and restaurants remain closed for in-person service, it allows other businesses earlier deemed non-essential to reopen with additional social distancing guidelines. 

This includes everything from retail stores to dog groomers to hair salons. He said guidance on the protocols these businesses should follow will come in the ensuing days. 

Non-essential retail stores will be allowed to open on April 27 for curbside service, and customers will be allowed inside on May 1, Polis said. 

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Under the safer-at-home model, the general public is:

  • Encouraged to stay at home unless necessary.
  • Strongly advised to wear face coverings when out.
  • No gatherings over 10 people.
  • Sick people may not go to work.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.

Businesses will be able to have 50% of their workforce return in-person, but Polis asked that anyone who can telecommute continue to do so during this phase of the state's response to the pandemic. 

Vulnerable populations, including seniors and people with underlying health conditions, should continue to stay at home and avoid going out in public.

"For seniors, April won't look much different than May," Polis said. 

Individual cities and counties can ask for exemptions from certain aspects of statewide orders. Polis is slated to approve one such request from Eagle County on Thursday. 

“I think it’s extremely important that local health authorities understand the situation on the ground in their area while making their decisions," Polis said. “What’s right for Otero County might not be right for Denver City and County.”

Colorado has exceeded 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and as of this writing, more than 500 people have died. Polis said the number of Coloradans who have had the virus is likely much higher than what has been tested. 

In a very Colorado fashion, he likened the stay-at-home order to skiing on a bunny hill. The move to safer at home, he said, is akin to starting to ski greens. And he said that's all the state is ready for right now. 

“We’re not gonna fall down and hurt ourselves, we don’t want to go onto a double black diamond or a terrain park or anything like that," Polis said. 

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