Denver residents couldn’t have asked for a nicer afternoon Tuesday to get in their final trips to clothing stores, playgrounds and at least one ice cream shop.
At 5 p.m., mobile phones blared with the city’s public safety alert. It was a notification most knew was coming: The city, for more than two weeks — and possibly longer — is effectively closed down, the result of a stay-at-home order announced Monday by Mayor Michael Hancock.
At Commons Park near downtown, dozens of people walked, threw balls for their dogs, lounged on the grassy hill in the sun and filled the air with laughter as they picnicked in groups. Many of those activities, save for individual exercise, are now banned in parks.
Lauren Danielson, 36, and her partner, Rossinni Alba, 32, relished the fresh air just a little over an hour before the order took effect as they kicked a soccer ball. They live nearby.
“Before this announcement, we had interactions with maybe one or two of our friends — like a total of four people over the last couple of weeks,” Danielson said. “We’re planning on cutting off any interaction with people that isn’t 6 feet away. I’m just trusting that they know what they’re talking about,” she said of city officials, “and that this is going to be what’s best. It’s not the worst thing in the world to be ordered to sit on my couch and watch TV.”
While the park was busy, the 16th Street Mall, near Lower Downtown, was already eerily empty. Office workers and other pedestrians were scarce.
Hancock’s order is aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus by largely keeping residents home, closing “nonessential businesses” and public places. It will last until April 10, unless the mayor decides to extend it.
There are a host of exceptions that allow some kinds of businesses to keep their doors open or their employees on site. But more employers are facing the decision between shifting most of their employees to working from home Wednesday or closing up temporarily, if that’s not an option — particularly for many retail outlets.
Denver’s Little Man Ice Cream took a cue from the mayor’s order and planned to go on hiatus at 5 p.m., even if they weren’t required to. Some other ice cream shops are staying open, offering takeout or delivery service.
In Writer Square along the mall downtown, most businesses were closed late Tuesday afternoon except for a couple takeout restaurants and a UPS Store.
For many, the order — the first announced in the metro area — adds just a few more restrictions to the already drastic changes to their lives since Colorado announced the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the virus, less than three weeks ago.
But for those who have shirked the city’s and state’s prior guidance, the order means big changes.
They’ll still be allowed to venture out to buy groceries and other supplies, to visit doctors, to fill medications and to exercise.
In announcing the order, Hancock lamented that the city’s parks drew huge crowds over the weekend. City parks will still be open, but the order prohibits pretty much any outdoor activity at them except for individual or family exercise. Playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and golf courses will be closed.
“This isn’t a recommendation anymore. People need to stay at home,” Hancock said in announcing the new order Monday. “We will enforce when and where necessary,” though authorities are more likely to urge violators to go home or close their doors than to issue tickets.
Hancock’s initial order inadvertently set off a mad rush to liquor stores and marijuana shops Monday afternoon, causing the kinds of lines and crowds he sought to discourage. Hours later, the mayor reversed the decision to close those places.
Denver issued its stay-at-home order several days after San Miguel County in southwestern Colorado, which was the first in the state. Hancock’s announcement has been followed by similar orders by the city of Boulder, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Pitkin County, home of Aspen and one of the hot spots of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Colorado.
So far, Gov. Jared Polis has held off on a statewide stay-at-home order.
This story will be updated.