Lory state park.jpg

A hiker takes in the view at Lory State Park near Fort Collins.

Reopening the state means different things, depending on where you go. 

Eat breakfast at a restaurant in Grand Junction, then go to church — as long as there are fewer than 50 worshipers. Camp at Lory State Park in Larimer County, but be prepared to not enter a retail store for any gear. Hit a gym in Meeker, but it can be at no more than 30% capacity and the equipment must be constantly sanitized.

Experts say this will be Coloradan's new reality: be prepared to navigate a dizzying array of rules governing social interactions.

That’s because when Gov. Jared Polis transitioned his stay-at-home executive order to “Safer at Home” on April 27, he also introduced the option for Colorado’s 64 counties to appeal to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment asking for their own changes to the stipulations. And many of them did. 

“It’s a cross-wind of pressure,” said Colorado Counties Inc. Executive Director John Swartout. “We don’t have adequate testing yet. And we don’t have adequate access to critical medical equipment. Health directors have to make these decisions with limited information. We have counties that still don’t have cases. Some counties don’t have hospitals. Every place is a little different.”

So far, 17 counties have requested waivers to the state’s order, but only four of them, Mesa, Eagle, Sedgwick and Rio Blanco counties have been granted those variances by the CDPHE. A map on the Colorado Counties Inc. website shows how restrictive, or not, each county is and where they are with their variance requests.

The key to the variance is getting the county's public health director and hospitals’ signoff that they can handle any surge in coronavirus cases. 

In Mesa County — one of the first counties to ask for a variance — some facilities can be open for business as long as certain standards are met; for instance, restaurants are open for in-person dining, but can only allow 30% capacity. Waiters and cooks must have their temperatures monitored, and they must use touchless payment methods.

“We wanted to talk to the state about moving forward with reopening our county in a balanced and reasonable way,” County Commissioner Rose Pugliese said. Mesa County’s strong hospital system and the fact that the state caseload for coronavirus is below 3% were major factors in their attempted comeback, she said. “I went to a restaurant today for the first time and it was so nice to have someone serve me … and he was happy because he was finally seeing people!” Pugliese said.

Despite Mesa and Eagle counties’ success stories, though, the state is still a patchwork of different rules depending on where the virus hot spots are. 

And there are still Colorado’s 272 cities to take into consideration, which have their own rules.

“In most cases, municipalities are going to be following the state,” says Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Kevin Bommer.  “We have to make sure they understand the rules of the road...particularly since CDPHE orders have evolved, which is a nice way of saying they change from week to week.”

Each city has a different way of doing business; for instance, the city of Westminster closed on March 17 but its public libraries, parks and recreation facilities closed three days earlier. Some opened up, like the town of Swink in southeastern Colorado. 

In Trinidad, City Hall is locked up, but city employees see citizens on a case-by-case basis. Town Hall is open in Rockvale and Rangely, and in Brush, City Hall is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Most Front Range municipalities are closed until further notice under the state’s Safer-at-Home order, including Boulder, Denver, Englewood, Centennial and Golden. Colorado Springs recently announced its municipal courts are scheduled to be up and running on June 1. 

Some cities are at odds with their counties on how they’ll open up. The city of Greeley has one of the most strict orders in the place in the state, with widespread public closures of city facilities until June 2 with a recommendation for local businesses to do the same “to further protect our community and get our economy back on track safely.” But Weld County, of which Greeley is the county seat, has come under fire for opening restaurants and businesses last Monday. 

The Colorado Municipal League keeps an active daily tab on the changing rules of the state’s 272 municipalities, most of which closed their city buildings in mid-March. 

Five Colorado cities -- Aspen, Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and Wheat Ridge -- have orders requiring face masks in public, but some are more strict than others. Wheat Ridge ordered its citizens to wear face masks starting April 27 to protect the “brave citizens” who staff “critical businesses” such as grocery stores and pharmacies. That order expires at midnight on May 30. 

In Denver, where the novel coronavirus has hit the hardest,  Mayor Michael Hancock has recommended that everyone above age 3  wear a face mask outside their home when they cannot maintain a safe distance from people, but he has backed off in some situations, “To be clear, you don’t need to wear a face covering if you’re out for a walk, exercising outdoors or driving in your car,” he said in early May. His order also applies to Denver International Airport. 

The jumble of regulations can be confusing to Colorado residents as they try to keep up with what’s banned and what’s allowed. 

“Yeah, I get it in the short term it is a little frustrating. I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard the term ‘patchwork of local ordinances,’ ” Bommer said. “But at the same time people complaining about having trouble keeping up with different rules, they’re espousing the virtues of local control.”

The gold standard for any confused traveler who wants to be certain about how to navigate this tricky coronavirus world is to stay 6 feet away from people and wear a mask when entering any business. Says Colorado Counties Inc’s Swartout, “Safer-at-Home applies to everyone.”

Wherever Coloradans travel, the advice is to brace for a long summer. “I call it a marathon,” he says. “Most of our folks have worked seven days a week for two months now and there’s no end in sight.”

But the end is getting clearer in Mesa County. Places of worship are now open as long as the congregation is under 50 people, and with such a low rate of coronavirus cases, county commissioners are pushing to expand that to number to 75% capacity.

“It gives us a sense of normalcy,” Pugliese said. “People are walking around downtown. We’re still wearing masks, but it gives a sense of hope that we’re moving forward.” 

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