Boulder County this morning imposed a sweeping order for a shutdown affecting a broad swath of public life, in order to minimize ongoing community spread of the coronavirus.

The historic directive came as the number of the county’s residents confirmed positive for COVID-19 increased to 52, one of the latest reported to be a University of Colorado Boulder student.

The county’s order, fashioned in coordination with Jefferson County Public Health and Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, and affecting two million people, is to take effect at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“Scientific evidence shows that we must act now, at this stage of the COVID-19 emergency, in order to save lives in the long-run,” Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health executive director, said in a statement. “It will give us the time we need to test comprehensively and to slow the spread of the virus to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed.”

The order requires all people anywhere in Boulder County to stay at home — also known as shelter in place — except for certain defined essential activities, work and services. It’s to remain in place until 11:59 p.m. April 17, unless officials determine it’s in the interest of public health to expire earlier.

The new order encompassing Boulder County comes a day after a similar measure went into effect in Denver. Now, a significant portion of Colorado residents soon will soon be carrying out their lives under some form of stay-at-home order. The measure also comes in the wake of a similar order by the city of Boulder that was announced late Monday and became effective at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The city announced today that the county’s stay at home order will replace the city’s directive.

“There is widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the Metro Denver area, and we must take bold actions to stop the spread of this virus,” Dr. John M. Douglas executive director of Tri-County Health Department, said in a statement. “With each passing day, we run a growing risk of greater transmission and illness and quickly overwhelming our hospitals, which are really a resource for our entire region and state. When this happens, not everyone may get the care they need. It’s a real possibility in Colorado — and a situation which has already occurred in countries such as Italy — and which is threatening to happen in major U.S. cities in other areas of our country.

“We understand the toll that measures to address the pandemic are having on our communities, and we want to reassure residents that this step is temporary, and a critical one to get us closer to recovery.”

Neighboring Broomfield has not issued a stay-at-home order, but residents were “strongly encouraged” to remain at home. Jason Vahling, the public health director for the City and County of Broomfield, on Wednesday issued an order adopting all CDPHE orders relating to COVID-19, ordering that all those living within the city and county comply with all orders issued by Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials.

“All individuals currently living within Broomfield are strongly encouraged to stay at their place of residence,” it said. To the extent that people use shared or outdoor spaces, it said they should “at all times, as reasonably possible, maintain social distancing.”

The roll out of the Boulder County order was not smooth. It was posted shortly after 8 a.m. today on the Boulder County Public Health website — at which point certain discrepancies between counties was discovered, and the department cautioned against dissemination of what was not yet considered a finalized order. It was finalized after 9 a.m.

Boulder County now has 52 residents confirmed positive for COVID-19, according to Chana Goussetis, spokesperson for Boulder County Public Health. Of those, as of late Tuesday, she had said 20 were recovering, and four were hospitalized.

Public Health’s statement on its website stated that the order “is issued based on evidence of increasing occurrence of COVID-19 within Boulder County, scientific evidence and best practices about the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically, and evidence that the age, condition, and health of a significant portion of the population of Boulder County places it at risk for serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19.”

The order dictates that businesses with a facility in Boulder County, except for those defined as “essential businesses,” must cease all activities at facilities located within the county, except for any “minimum basic operations,” as defined in the order.

Sheriff hopes enforcement not necessary

Boulder County Sheriff Joseph Pelle, who considers himself in the “at-risk category with a lot of older Americans,” is working remotely from his home northeast of Longmont.

Pelle said he has no knowledge of a similar order ever being issued in the county’s history, and that a 150-year history of the department compiled in 2011 reflected nothing like it. However, a 2006 history column in the Camera about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic by Silvia Pettem reported that by Oct. 6 of that year “so many Boulder residents were sick that city officials established a public quarantine. Two days later, the virus reached its peak with 649 cases.”

“I understand completely what they’re trying to do,” Pelle said. “They’re trying to keep our health system from being overwhelmed, and I appreciate that this is not going to eliminate the virus. But hopefully it will save lives and keep the tide away from swamping our health system.”

Pelle disclosed that one of his own deputies is among those in the county confirmed positive for COVID-19, and that that woman had been sent home after her diagnosis, has recovered, and is expected to return to work Thursday.

Two additional sheriff’s employees are at home with the presumption that they have the flu or COVID-19, but were unable to get tested.

“We’ve got about a half a dozen people or more out on isolation, because they’re at risk or they may have been exposed,” Pelle said.

The Boulder County Jail population, he said, has been reduced from 480 inmates to under 300, freeing up one module for those who show signs of illness.

As for enforcement of the new county order, Pelle said, “We hope we don’t have to enforce it. It’s our hope that people understand the need for it, and respect their friends and families and neighbors enough to abide by that.

“I don’t see us being out in the community, out in parks enforcing this, writing tickets, that kind of thing. I don’t see that at all. I do see our folks educating people and trying to get cooperation.”

Businesses found to be in noncompliance, he said, would likely earn a citation. A shutdown order for such a business, he said, would come from the county public health department.

Pelle said the sheriff’s department is poised to go to 12-hour, seven day staffing plans, if the circumstances dictate its necessity

Stay home order has many exemptions

Businesses may continue operations where their employees, contractors and volunteers work remotely or from home. Essential businesses are asked to remain open, but must comply with social distancing requirements of maintaining a six-foot distance from others, including employees and members of the public, for example, customers standing in line.

Essential businesses are encouraged to consider delivery, drive-thru, and pick up options to minimize exposure between individuals.

As is the case with the initial order from the city of Boulder, many categories of people are exempted from its constraints, based on their being deemed “essential.” The county order lists no fewer than 25.

They include health care operations and essential infrastructure, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, licensed liquor stores, licensed marijuana dispensaries (both medical and recreational), and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Also exempt are stores that sell groceries and also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences. Food and plant cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing are among exempted activities, as are businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.

Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services are on the list of those exempted, as are gas stations and auto supply, auto repair, and related facilities, bicycle supply, bicycle repair, banks and other financial institutions. Hardware stores and licensed gun shops also get a break.

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