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What does the Governor’s new COVID-19 ‘Safer-at-Home’ order mean, when Colorado is ringed by states which have never had strong protection orders?

Monday afternoon, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that, as of April 27, the state will shift out of its “stay-at-home” orders, enacted to protect residents from the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19, which expires April 26, to something called “safer-at-home.” The state can begin a gradual reopening, says the governor, because social distancing efforts have successfully slowed the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s a time for calculated risks. It’s a time to be careful,” said Polis. “It’s a time to be safer at home when you can, but be able to live in a sustainable and fulfilling way. Psychologically, emotionally, economically, putting bread on your table, as we prepare for the long haul.”

Fully protected HRRMC employees test a person outside the Emergency Department. Thus far, no hospital workers have tested positive for the virus.

The governor went on to say residents will soon be able to get haircuts and dental procedures, but that businesses will have to take precautions. Office buildings could begin to plan to operate at 50 percent in-office staffing levels. He doesn’t think restaurants will be allowed to reopen until mid-May at the earliest.

Residents are advised to continue to wear masks in public and practice social distancing. (Tests show that without a mask, droplets from even a medium cough can travel eight to 10 feet on microthermal currents.)

He says a declining number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is allowing him to lift some restrictions, but gave no evidence of that statement. The governor says he’ll outline details further in the coming days. Oddly, the announcement comes on the day that the number of Colorado COVID-19 cases passed the 10,000 mark, bumping the state into the next category of infection.

The move also comes after Colorado experienced a Colorado version of the Liberate rallies that have popped up in several other states, this past weekend. While the two aren’t necessarily related, it appears to recognize people’s growing frustration, as small businesses struggle to survive and families face an economic crisis.

The governor’s decision appears to deflect the advice of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), because the state doesn’t yet have extensive testing resources. The CDPHE says some degree of social distancing will need to be in place for months to ensure that the state’s healthcare capacity is not exceeded.

“Until we have testing supplies available wide enough that we have a chance to detect the cases and have an epidemiology response, we’re just going to have to maintain social distancing,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Ryan.

Asked if Colorado’s compliance with the current social distancing adherence has been enough, she answered that it is at close to 80 percent. According to the CDPHE, because of a lack of testing, it estimates that between 65,000 and 75,000 Coloradans have, or have had, COVID-19, whether they knew it or not.

Risks from Outside the State

Still, Colorado’s “safer-at-home” step comes with risk – and that risk is not all within the state.

The bump in coronavirus cases in this past week has been most pronounced in states that haven’t any stay at home orders. Oklahoma saw a 53 percent increase in cases over the past week. Cases jumped 60 percent in Arkansas, 74 percent in Nebraska, and 82 percent in Iowa. South Dakota saw a whopping 205 percent spike. The remaining states, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming each saw an increase in cases, but more in line with other places that have stay-at-home orders. All of those numbers may very well undercount the total cases, given a persistent lack of testing across the U.S.

Notice anything? Many of these states border Colorado, or represent direct lines via Interstate highways from hotspots there to Colorado: Grand Island, Nebraska; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tulsa, Oklahoma. The governors in each of these states insist that their own approach, short of a stay-at-home order, is the best way to combat the virus for their individual states — for the time being, at least.

Certainly, Colorado, which saw our first hotspot erupt in Eagle County, brought there by out-of-state skiers, recognizes that it is a myth that rural areas can’t experience a COVID-19 health crisis. Opening too soon, and allowing out-of-state visitors, could plunge mountain counties back into COVID-19 crisis at the peak of the summer tourism season.

As Midwest and Western states know, while the American heartland is far less dense than New York and other cities and states on the coasts, it is home to much of the country’s agricultural and manufacturing base. The threat coronavirus poses to those sectors of the economy has begun to arrive. What this threat means as Colorado begins this transition out of our strict stay-at-home orders, we may soon find out.