10 p.m. last call for alcohol ordered to slow COVID-19 spread among young people

More social distancing needed to prevent case overload, Gov. Polis warns

Gov. Jared Polis during a COVID-19 news briefing on July 21, 2020. (Governor Jared Polis Facebook)

As Colorado’s COVID-19 case counts continue to rebound, especially among young people, Gov. Jared Polis has ordered alcohol sales at bars and restaurants across the state to end by 10 p.m. for at least the next 30 days.

“Your best (intentions) around social distancing just fall by the wayside if you’re in a group of 50 or a hundred people where folks are inebriated,” Polis said during a press conference on July 21. “It’s that very reduction of inhibitions that leads to a lapse in mask-wearing and social distancing. And Colorado can’t afford that, without risking a setback to our economy, a setback for kids returning to school, and of course the loss of life.”

The temporary change to Colorado’s 2 a.m. last-call law comes amid what state officials say is a worrying rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Colorado. Last week, after resisting such a move for months, Polis issued a statewide mask order in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus, as the state’s three-day moving average for new cases exceeded 500 for the first time since May 1.

“We are no exception to the national trend,” Polis said. “We have a slightly slower trajectory, but we are very worried that without these corrections that Coloradans are taking, and an increased effort for social distancing, that we would risk being a national hotspot.”

Modeling released last week by the Colorado School of Public Health, however, suggests that increased mask-wearing alone won’t be enough to prevent a dangerous spike in COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm hospital capacity in August or September.

“Under these scenarios, without additional interventions or changes in social distancing, demand could greatly exceed hospital capacity,” researchers wrote.

Polis said Tuesday that it’s time for Coloradans to go “back to basics” when it comes to social distancing.

“That means telecommuting if you can,” he said. “If you’re going out camping or hiking, go with your household, or at most one other household, and try to be 6 feet away from others. Just having one or two people over, instead of a larger group — limiting your groups to 10 people or less. Just taking fewer trips to the grocery store, buying twice the amount of groceries, going half as much.”

Much of the recent growth in Colorado’s COVID-19 infection rate has been driven by people age 20 to 39, who accounted for more than 60% of the state’s new cases in June, according to Colorado School of Public Health data. While young people face a lower risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19, experts say that the recent uptick in hospitalization numbers can be blamed at least in part on reduced rates of social distancing among young people beginning earlier this summer.

Young people have driven much of the recent growth in Colorado’s rate of COVID-19 infections. (Colorado School of Public Health)

“It is possible that younger populations increased their out-of-household contact rates and
became infected at a higher rate than previously, and then spread infections to older populations through household or community contacts,” Colorado School of Public Health researchers wrote in their July 16 report. “This is supported by the increase in reported infections in people age 20-39 throughout the month of June and the more recent increase in infections and hospitalizations in people over 40.”

“We’ve seen this in other states,” Polis said on Tuesday. “It started with the 20- to 29-year-olds, but we don’t live in a world with generational isolation. It might start with 20 to 29, but it immediately becomes part of broader society, their parents, their grandparents, because 20- to 29-year-olds don’t live in a bubble. The decisions that they’re making don’t just affect themselves.”

At least one Denver establishment isn’t happy about Polis’ move to restrict alcohol sales. “We are we are devastated to hear (Polis) announce that last call for alcohol will be at 10 pm!” tweeted Blake Street Tavern shortly after the announcement.

As COVID-19 data continues to trend in the wrong direction, the Polis administration also announced on Tuesday that it has warned 15 Colorado counties that they risk losing state approval to reopen certain businesses if their incidence rates do not improve.

As statewide restrictions have gradually eased, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has granted variances to county governments, allowing for more flexibility than currently allowed under Polis’ “Safer at Home” order. Counties now at risk of losing those variances due to rising COVID-19 numbers include Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson and El Paso counties, state officials said.

“Counties have two weeks to reverse their disease trend,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, CDPHE’s executive director. “If they are not able to reverse the trend, the variance will be revoked, and the county will follow the state’s Safer at Home order.”

The state is also requesting that county officials develop mitigation plans outlining the measures they plan to implement to slow the virus’ spread, which could include improved social distancing, testing and contract tracing, mask-wearing and more.

“Smaller corrections like these, coupled with responsible behavior from Coloradans of all ages — but particularly here talking about 20 to 29 — is what’s going to make the difference,” Polis said.