In an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday ordered the closure of all restaurants and bars across the city, beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday and in effect until May 11.
Denver residents, however, will still be able to order food through delivery, carry-out and drive-thru services.
“This is a very, very hard decision because I know who’s being impacted,” Hancock said during a Monday morning press conference. “But right now, nothing trumps the public health and safety of all people. And trust me, we would not have moved in this direction had we not had to.”
The numbers of bars and restaurants in Denver were still being determined, but the Colorado Restaurant Association reports that the restaurant industry in Denver County employed 55,000 in 2019.
The city will task officials from the Department of Excise and Licenses to monitor restaurants and bars and ensure businesses and members of the public are complying with the order.
The mayor said his administration will be announcing over the next few days ways the city will help support local business and workers, particularly hourly workers, who will be impacted by this decision.
“This is going to hit us in a very major way,” Hancock said, “and we know that.”
Exceptions to the new order include cafeterias, commissaries and restaurants in medical facilities, including nursing homes and hospitals; grocery stores; pharmacies; food banks; and airport concessionaires.
The Colorado Restaurant Association said it's bracing for what's to come from the city's decision.
"We anticipate Denver's restaurant and bar closures will have a devastating economic impact on the industry and the people it employs, but the industry is ready to do its part to stop the spread of COVID-19," Colorado Restaurant Association CEO Sonia Riggs said in a statement.
"We are grateful that the Mayor is allowing delivery, curbside pick-up, and drive-through service to continue, as this provides an essential option for Denverites practicing social distancing, will help relieve strain on grocery stores, and will allow the businesses to generate some revenue and retain some staff to soften the blow. We hope to see the City offer more emergency measures to assist businesses and employees impacted by this extraordinary event."
Riggs is encouraging business owners and employees affected by the closures to visit the Colorado Restaurant Association's coronavirus resources page, which is updated regularly, to learn more about available relief to them.
In addition to announcing the city’s compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to ban any public gatherings with more than 50 people, the mayor also provided updates on several other preventive measures the city is taking in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases, including indefinitely shutting down its motor vehicle locations and increasing social distancing in the city jails.
As part of those efforts, the Denver Sheriff Department will not book certain low-level, nonviolent arrests into the jails.
Hancock also announced that sheriff’s deputies will no longer be tasked with evicting residents if they cannot pay their rent, and instead will be redeployed to other areas of need within the department. This measure will be effect until further notice, he said.
Bob McDonald, the executive director of Denver’s public health department, said that the situation “is changing hourly at this point,” and that there is no way to know how many people in Denver could catch the novel coronavirus over time.
Nevertheless, he said, the city’s mission of testing, containment and social distancing remains the same.
“All of our efforts are to find the right balance and to stem the flow of this illness,” McDonald said.
One major snag in the city's plan is that it is currently facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, which includes face masks that can protect against the virus and are used in places such as hospitals and by first responders.
Without additional gear, which is provided by the state and federal governments, Denver's preventative measures to curtail the spread of the new coronavirus will come to a "screeching halt," Hancock said.
"As we set up these new centers or opportunities to house people experiencing homelessness and volunteers and staff are there to help," the mayor said, "they need PPE to be able to fully volunteer to protect themselves as well as to protect those who are coming through the doors."
As of now, McDonald said, the city’s hospitals are not at risk of running out of hospital beds nor falling short of ventilators. The city is still preparing for the situation, however, should hospitals become at capacity.
This story has been updated.