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Gov. Polis orders businesses to reduce in-office staff by 50% or ‘fear the reaper’

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference to outline the state’s efforts to fend off the spread of coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Denver. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday ordered non-critical businesses to cut the number of employees working together in offices and other workplaces by at least half.

He also urged state residents to also do their part to reduce their potential exposure to the coronavirus by doing things like only shopping once a week and jogging less frequently and at different hours.

Polis said the state will set an example with more than half of its employees who do not work in round-the-clock operations, like prisons, working from home starting Monday. He urged private employers to decrease workplace density by allowing telecommuting when possible or staggering shifts if it’s not.

The order for private employers will take effect Tuesday with exceptions for several industries, including health care, manufacturing, banking and infrastructure.

Polis said the aim of the order and the previous restrictions on businesses like restaurants and bars and gatherings of more than 10 people is to slow the spread of the virus until the the state can deploy more widespread testing and obtain badly needed medical equipment. The state wants to handle the outbreak more like South Korea or Taiwan rather than Italy, he said.

Colorado may need 7,000 more ventilators when the outbreak reaches its peak, Polis said.

The governor acknowledged the orders cannot be enforced by police, just the fear of the “grim reaper.”

“The consequences are very much life and death for your friends, your loved ones and maybe even yourself,” he said.

While a total of 591 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in 29 of Colorado’s 64 counties as of Sunday, Polis said the number of people who have it is likely in the thousands. Six people have died.

Meanwhile, to help control the spread of the virus near Rocky Mountain National Park, hotels, motels and vacation rentals in and around Estes Park will close starting at noon Monday as the tourism-dependent community discourages people from visiting.

The order is set to stay in effect through April 17. Local workers, long-term residents of short-term facilities and people who are quarantined are exempt.

The age and health of a significant number of the area’s population is at risk of having serious complications from COVID-19. The move came at the urging of Estes Park’s hospital, according to an announcement from the town and Larimer County.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision made with the health of the people in our community in mind — our number one priority,” Estes Park town administrator Travis Machalek said in the statement.

The park closed Friday at the county’s request.

Colorado has seen spread of the disease in areas near its mountain ski resorts, which attract visitors from around around the world. All ski areas have been shut down because of the outbreak.

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