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//Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide mask mandate on July 16, 2020, citing growing COVID-19 cases in Colorado. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | sovereign73811b@gmail.com

Editor’s note: It was initially reported in this story that the purple level was below the red level on Colorado’s COVID dial. The purple level is actually a step above red. You can read more about the state’s dial system here. Denver will be moving to the red stay-at-home designation in the coming days. 

With no guaranteed stimulus, pandemic fatigue and limping businesses across the state, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new, fifth level to Colorado’s COVID dial. This purple, or “Extreme Risk,” level will apply on a county by county basis and will indicate when a county should go into lockdown instead of remaining under a stay-at-home order. Counties that fall under the purple level will face additional restrictions to those in the red level.

“I think it’s clear from the data that what we have been doing hasn’t worked well enough. The Mayor has tried mightily with strong mitigations in Denver,” Polis said. “So have other counties. We had hoped that it would have worked. But it hasn’t. So it’s time to take additional measures.”

Red counties will see restaurants close indoor dining while maintaining takeout and outdoor dining. Bars will be closed, and gyms will be restricted to 10% capacity with social distancing and reservations. The Governor said 10-15 counties will most likely move into the red deignation by Friday. Mayor Michael Hancock said that Denver will be one of those counties. No counties are currently at a purple level. 

However, the lack of concrete information from the press conference frustrated Angela Neri, who owns Pony Up, a restaurant based in Denver. Neri said that she was unclear on what counties were going into the red and which ones would go purple.

“This is that time [of the year] where it’s the holidays and people, you know, are usually having an abundance of food, but now people are not even sure where their next paycheck is [coming from],” Neri said. “Or, if unemployment’s going to take care of them or not. For a lot of these people, unemployment already ran out. So I’m more concerned about the industry and the people who make the industry run every day.”

The new order comes as the state’s coronavirus numbers march continually in the wrong direction. According to CovidActNow.org, the state has 80.7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. Colorado’s COVID-19 numbers look worse now than they did in the spring. The state’s seven-day, moving average positivity rate is 12.61%, well above the 5% the WHO recommends in order to contain the virus.

With several economic lifelines like unemployment insurance running out and no new major federal stimulus on the horizon, Denverites and hard-hit industries face an uncertain winter. However, Polis also confirmed reports that he was calling a special session of the Colorado State Assembly sometime after Thanksgiving. The goal of the session will be to pass legislation to help businesses and families survive by passing small business relief, direct aid, tax relief, housing and rental assistance and other measures.

“On one hand, I don’t want people to be evicted. I know there’s people out there who are working right now because they have to. I know they don’t want to. They have no other choice,” said massage therapist Sarah Gleason. “There’s a part of me that’s like, let’s shut it down, help people get through this so we can actually contain it. At the same time, I don’t know what funds are available. I’m not Polis. I’m not Hancock.”

In an ideal world, she said, Denver would have been shut down through June to keep the virus contained. However, she acknowledged that’s not what happened. Now, she said the virus was so overrun that it’s hard to know what to do exactly. 

Gleason also confirmed another important point. Although a second shutdown will be ruinous to many businesses in the city, for others it’s an extension of the limbo they’ve lived through since the pandemic started in March.

Gabriela Reyes owns a business that handles event management and production. Her business is used to planning events that hold between 500-5000 guests. Since the original shutdown, though, gathering restrictions prevent her from holding events anywhere near the size of what they previously were. The events industry has moved to micro-events, she said. 

“The threat of another shutdown is holding all these companies, and I’m going to include the entertainment as well as the event sectors, from being able to survive,” she said. “It’s a scary thing. This is my business.”

Although the governor did not institute another shutdown, none of the in-person gathering restrictions will lift anytime soon. Thus, the status quo continues for Reyes. 

With her business at a standstill, Reyes has moved to outside gigs and other forms of short term labor to make ends meet. It only makes up between a third and half of her former income. She said other people in the industry are beginning to consider switching careers. 

Reyes also said that three people she knows were considering leaving and moving back home. Calling Denver a “city of transplants,” the pandemic has reduced opportunities for many who live and work outside of digital and telecommuting spaces. 

With those prospects diminishing, this new shutdown might drive more people out of the city.

As the face of work accelerates from in-person to virtual, businesses and workers have had to adapt. Working from home with children can be a particular challenge. 

“As a woman-owned and mom-owned digital business, the shutdowns have a unique impact on my clients and myself—variously. For some, like me, we are also moms, there is not really a way for us to both run our businesses and watch our kids if school or daycare are shut down,” said Kim Hogate, a digital entrepreneur who works with other clients. “For me, it means a lot of early mornings when everyone is sleeping, so that I can get my work done. I’m talking at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m.”

As Denverites may head indoors once more, it’s clear that the balancing act between public safety and making ends meet will be harder than before.