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Social Distancing in Colorado: What’s Acceptable and What’s Not

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It was just over a month ago when Gov. Polis announced a statewide stay-at-home order for Colorado, restricting travel for residents only to essential services such as grocery stores, medical facilities, and pot and liquor stores as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The order included a social distancing requirement, where interactions with anyone living outside of the home are to be limited to six feet apart and in groups of no more than 10 people. This led to major changes in protocol for essential businesses all across the state, and the complete shutdown of public gathering spaces such as bars, clubs, sporting complexes and theaters. 

While the initial stay-at-home order is about to expire, a “safer-at-home” is about to go into effect this week, which maintains preventative measures such as social distancing and wearing masks while allowing commercial businesses to reopen with 50% of employees working.

While staying six or more feet apart from others and only gathering in groups of 10 or less may seem simple enough, there’s been some confusion surrounding the social distancing requirement of the order. As Polis personally approved of–and encouraged–outdoor activity while announcing the first order, parks and other outdoor gathering spaces have seen an uptick in traffic, and residential streets are teeming with cyclists, runners, kids at play and families out for a walk. 

The sunny days and mild temperatures offered by Colorado’s current season beckon many of us to spend more time outdoors, but with social distancing still being in place, it can be hard to determine where and with whom to recreate. 

The stay-at-home order emphasizes three primary social distancing requirements:

  • Maintain 6 feet of distance or more between others
  • Group gatherings are limited to 10 persons
  • Travel is restricted to 10 miles or less from your home

There are, of course, exemptions to these requirements in the case of essential businesses and services.

With social distancing and other shelter-in-place measures being left up to individual states and municipalities to decide, some areas of the country are taking it more seriously than others. 

Likewise, some areas–in particular, cities–are at higher risk of transmitting the virus due to population density. The Colorado COVID-19 Social Distancing Index provides a risk summary of virus contraction for all areas of the state based on population, housing, and essential labor.

Although public reaction to stay-at-home and social distancing has been somewhat mixed, it is a necessary precaution that is working to slow the spread of the virus; whereas cases were initially doubling every 1.5 to 2 days, social distancing measures in Colorado reduced the rate to just once every 6 or 7 days by the first week of April. 

Unfortunately, for social distancing to really work, we need to keep it going. Many experts predict that social gatherings will be restricted for months to come as the virus continues to spread, albeit more slowly than before.

As is always the case with these types of orders, there are those who will choose to rebel; across the US, law enforcement has been cracking down on church services, weddings, parties, and other events that are in direct violation of health emergency rules.

The residents of Colorado are known for their love of the outdoors and commitment to a physically active lifestyle. This makes social distancing in our state harder to abide by than others, with Colorado ranking 4th in one study looking at the overall difficulty of social distancing in US states.

However, Colorado seems to be setting an example, with no major violations being reported in Denver, Jefferson County or Colorado Springs. In fact, crimes were down 30% by the end of March than what they were at the beginning of the month. Law enforcement in our state seem to be prioritizing education over enforcement, and are advising the public not to worry about going to jail but to take social distancing seriously. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, pressures will continue to mount across the country to reopen the towns, cities and states that have been on lockdown for the past month. However, scientists are stressing the importance of practicing patience, as significant infection rate lag times and testing availability issues impede a fully-knowledgeable understanding of the virus’ current cycle.

The bottom line regarding social distancing is that it’s working. Even though we may be going crazy stuck in our homes for weeks on end, it’s important to stop and consider the many lives we are saving by doing so. 

So far, the authorities in Colorado have been emphasizing educating the public rather than handing out citations. If you do end up receiving a citation that you feel is unwarranted, you may want to consider contacting a Denver defense attorney to explore your legal options.