DENVER — As Denver said its stay-at-home order will be extended into May, Weld County on Thursday unveiled a reopening plan more expansive than the one crafted by the state.
The Weld County Board of Commissioners and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment dubbed their strategy the “safer-at-work” plan, in clear contrast to the “safer-at-home” plan Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced earlier this week.
Polis’ option calls for a gradual reopening of businesses throughout the state. Beginning on April 27, for example, retail businesses can offer curbside service. Elective surgeries can begin again, and salons can re-open with strict protocols. Restaurant dining rooms will remain closed.
The chair of Weld County's board of commissioners, Mike Freeman, told 1310 KFKA Radio that the county will not direct businesses to open, but it will provide guidelines for all of them to do so if they choose.
“This will be for businesses, in general, to open across the board,” he said. “I think the governor's been pretty clear all along that his orders are unenforceable.”
Freeman also said, however, that this does not mean “business as usual.” The county’s guidelines include limiting groups to 10 people, keeping six feet between individuals, and a recommendation for physical barriers.
The county will also consider publishing more industry-specific guidelines for places like restaurants, Freeman told KFKA. He said commissioners will not tell longterm care facilities how to handle visitors, but people should remember that the elderly are considered vulnerable.
“I think [Polis] made it very clear that he expected local health departments and local counties to figure this out, and they would be the ones enforcing it," Freeman said. "The main reason we're doing this is I think we just believe it's completely unfair to pick winners and losers."
In the interview, Freeman acknowledged Weld County did not consult with the state health department on this decision. The governor's office told 9NEWS counties that are out of compliance with public health orders "are in jeopardy of losing state emergency preparedness grants."
“They do not have any kind of unilateral ability to jeopardize the health of residents,” Polis said in a press conference on Friday, adding restaurants "cannot" proceed with reopening.
WATCH: Polis says diverse stay-home orders are appropriate for Colorado, but explains why he doesn't accept Weld's approach
Freeman also said standards may vary by municipality within the county, where 1,263 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 70 people have died because of the disease, as of Thursday. Those numbers include cases related to the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, the site of a coronavirus outbreak. The plant closed April 10 but reopened Friday morning. Greeley's city government said Friday that it supports the state's approach, and based on medical advice, will keep public facilities closed through June 2.
In Evans, at Sunrise Community Health, doctors and nurses have tested hundreds of patients for COVID-19, many of whom are positive. The doctors inside said they fear easing restrictions could lead to more patients walking into their building.
"There's a lot of fear. There's a lot of fear among staff too. Patients, staff, just the general community," said Sunrise Community Health CEO Mitzi Moran. "I am very worried, whether it's Weld, or anywhere in the state, I am worried about people opening too soon and without a staged plan."
About 85% of the patients at Sunrise are low income or without insurance. Many can't afford or don't want to go to a hospital.
Moran said she questions if it's time to reopen all businesses.
"I'm really worried about what it means for healthcare. Do they have the capacity to handle another surge? I don't have the answer to that," Moran said. "They are raising their hands saying, I'll take a shift in the respiratory clinic let me do it, but they are exhausted. It is exhausting work."
The clinic now does the majority of their consultations over telehealth. They deliver medicine to patients outside the building. Anything to help stop the spread of the virus.
Now they prepare for the unknown that comes with reopening the county.
The Weld County Board of Commissioners released the following statement Friday morning.
Weld County Government is not opening any businesses, just as Weld County Government did not close any businesses. That said, each commissioner has received comments from constituents struggling to make ends meet, pay their bills, and take care of their families who have said they are going to open their businesses.
So, Weld County Government took the proactive response of preparing best practices and guidance that could be used as business owners look to reopen – whenever they feel comfortable to do so. An informed public is a strong public.
The same preventative measures need to be heeded – we’ve said that. Expectations need to be managed – we’re doing that. What we aren’t going to do is pick winners and losers as to who gets to restart their livelihoods.
And at the end of the day, everyone has freedoms: freedom to stay home, freedom to go out, and freedom to support whatever business they want to support.
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