Weld County will allow any business to reopen beginning April 27

Contravening Gov. Jared Polis’s plan for a phased reopening, Weld County will allow any businesses that follow social distancing guidelines to begin opening their doors to the public Monday, the chairman of the board of county commissioners announced in a radio interview.

Weld County is still calling for a gradual reopening of businesses, and the “safer at work” best-practices document the county commission released Thursday evening — its title a play on Polis’ “safer at home” plan — includes the same types of COVID-19 safety and distancing recommendations that state health officials have made.

Neither the “safer at work” document nor the Weld County news release announcing its publication explicitly say that any businesses in the county can reopen beginning Monday.

But Commissioner Mike Freeman told KFKA-1310 AM radio that Weld County rejects the state’s choosing of which types of business can reopen, and on what schedule they’ll be allowed to resume operations.

“We just believe that it’s completely unfair to pick winners and losers,” Freeman said in the Thursday interview. “We’ve been picking winners and losers in this state for the last six weeks, or however long it’s been. We made a decision — not us, the governor made a decision of what is an essential business. I have no idea how you determine that pot shops are essential businesses, but those were included in this.

“And then he comes out with this new thing. He’s still picking winners and losers of who can open and who can’t, and what we’re saying is, we’re going to treat everybody equally and fairly in Weld County.”

In a statement released Friday morning, the Weld County commissioners said they “took the proactive response of preparing best practices and guidance that could be used as business owners look to reopen — whenever they feel comfortable to do so. An informed public is a strong public.”

Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a statement Friday that local governments have the option to mirror the state’s “safer-at-home” plan, or be even more restrictive — as Denver has, by extending its own stay-at-home order until May 8.

But if they want guidelines that are more lax than the state’s, Cahill said, those local governments need to offer proof of 14 consecutive days of declines in COVID-19 infections in their county, and submit an application to the state health department that includes a COVID-19 suppression plan approved by their local public health authority and all hospitals in their jurisdiction.

Freeman, in the radio interview, said Weld County had not been in contact with the Colorado Deaprtment of Public Health and Environemnt about its plans. “We are going to rely on the Weld County health department to make decisions in Weld County,” he said.

As of Thursday, Weld County had the third-highest total of COVID-19 infections and deaths among counties in Colorado, with a total of 1,263 cases and 70 deaths. The county also has seen deadly outbreaks at a meat-packing plant and several nursing homes.

Slowing the transmission of the coronavirus in Weld County is a top priority for the state, Cahill said.

“Counties who are out of compliance are in jeopardy of losing state emergency preparedness grants,” he said. “The governor has been clear that Colorado is in this together and will get through this challenging time together.”

Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order expires at the end of the day Sunday, and Polis has proposed a “safer-at-home” plan that will begin Monday with some retail businesses allowed to reopen for curbside pickup, and the resumption of one-on-one real estate showings.

On May 1, those retail businesses will be able to reopen to limited numbers of in-store customers, and one-on-one personal services such as salons, tattoo shops and dog groomers, as well as dental offices, can resume operation. But under Polis’s plan, bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least mid-May.

“I think the governor’s been pretty clear all along that his orders are unenforceable — he said that with the stay-at-home order,” Freeman said in the radio interview. “I think he made it very clear that he expected local health departments and local counties to figure this out. … We’re not telling businesses they have to open or anything like that; it’s going to be up to the businesses.

“We’re simply saying, these are the guidelines to allow businesses to reopen if they choose to do so.”

The three-page Weld County “safer at work” guidelines begin by calling on businesses to limit groups gathered indoors to 10 or fewer people while ensuring six-foot social distancing.

The document also urges the regular cleaning and disinfecting of public spaces, requiring employees to wear masks, installing Plexiglas barriers at cash registers, adjusting shopping hours for high-risk customers, monitoring employees’ temperatures, and both implementing a flexible sick leave policy and encouraging employees to say home when they’re sick.

Polis has stressed the need for a gradual reopening in an effort to help prevent a surge in COVID-19 infections. At a news conference this week, he insisted the “safer at home” plan should not be seen “as a grand reopening of the state,” and that members of the public should continue staying in their homes as much as possible.

“We’re at the trailhead,” he said, comparing the next phase to a hike in the Rocky Mountains. “We’re not going to summit it right away.”

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