Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday that he believes he'll be able to lift Colorado's stay-at-home order on April 26 but cautioned that his decision will hinge on the state of the coronavirus pandemic as the date approaches.
Polis pointed out in a telephone town hall held with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner that his target date is a few days earlier than the April 30 expiration of President Donald Trump's federal stay-at-home guidelines.
"I'm confident we can, but the decision at the time will be confirmed by the data and the numbers," Polis said, adding that Colorado's first steps back toward normal will depend on how well residents comply with guidance to stay at home and wear facial masks when they're out.
Polis on Monday extended the requirement in place since March 26 that state residents avoid unnecessary travel outside their homes, leaving open only businesses the government considers essential.
Later Thursday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Colorado has 6,202 cases of COVID-19, with 1,221 patients hospitalized and 226 deaths, with the highest number of deaths in Denver, El Paso and Weld counties.
Nearly 10,000 people listened in on the hour-long telephone town hall at its peak level of participation, a staffer told Colorado Politics. It was the 13th telephone town hall devoted to the novel coronavirus that Gardner has hosted in recent weeks.
Many of the dozen questions asked by constituents involved when residents and business owners can expect assistance from the $2.3 trillion relief package passed by Congress two weeks ago.
Nicole, who owns a salon in Denver, wanted to know when she can look forward to opening her business and asked when federal assistance will arrive.
"I want to know when small business grants will start trickling in because, unfortunately, my bills aren't stopping," she said. "It's really not easy."
"If we do this right, we'll get out of it sooner rather than later," Gardner said.
He described elements of the relief package's $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, administered by the Small Business Administration and meant to encourage businesses with fewer than 500 employees to keep their employees on the payroll.
The program offers loans through local banks and other lenders, Gardner said, which can be used to pay salaries, health insurance premiums, utilities and mortgage payments, among other categories. If business owners use the loan for that purpose, it will be forgiven and won't have to be repaid.
In answer to a question from another Denver small business owner who said he has applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan but hasn't seen any money yet, Gardner said he's been pressing the Treasury Department and SBA to "get the money out the door as quickly as possible."
The program, which allows business owners to request up to $10,000 as an advance on a loan, is supposed to put money in applicants' pockets within three days, Gardner said, but that hasn't been happening.
Another Denver resident asked Gardner about news reports that the federal government was cutting support for community testing sites on Friday, adding, "Testing is only way out of this crisis."
NPR reported late Thursday that the Trump administration would continue funding the test sites after reversing course under pressure from local officials and members of Congress.
Gardner, for his part, said he agreed with the questioner about the importance of testing.
"Testing is key (to) how we are going to get through this," he said, including getting the economy moving again by letting some people get back o work.
"The idea is to test, to treat and to make sure we get people back into their job and into their line of work," he said.
Gardner said the federal government will continue helping ramp up testing capacity and pointed to $16 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill to fill up the Strategic National Stockpile, which includes diagnostic testing supplies, as well as personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies.
"Testing, treating, tracing is going to be so important how we get out of this," Gardner said.
What that means, he said, is that instead of quarantining the entire country, isolation orders can be narrowly targeted to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Widespread testing can also identify hotspots that need more resources, he said, and serology tests to identify antibodies — evidence that someone used to have the infection — will let people get back to work if it turns out recovering from COVID-19 confers immunity.
Early in the call, Polis said Gardner's role as chairman of a key Senate subcommittee devoted to East Asia has been a boon for Colorado.
"He's been extremely helpful making introductions for the state of Colorado to suppliers in Vietnam and South Korea," Polis said. "In fact, we've been following up with them regularly with the connections he has in Southeast Asia."
Added Polis: "It's wonderful to see our Senate, our Congress working together in a bipartisan way to address the real needs of the American people."
A Gardner spokeswoman said Thursday's telephone town hall reached its audience by dialing around 150,000 Coloradans — with phones in the Denver metro area in this case, though earlier town halls have concentrated elsewhere in the state.
Find a wealth of COVID-19 resources compiled by Gardner here, including links to audio recordings of most of his recent telephone town halls.