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A sign is taped to the closed gate to Washington Park as a mayoral edict goes into effect to close city-owned parks to group activities in an effort to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Denver. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about three to six weeks depending on the severity of the COVID-19 illness. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Stay-at-home orders issued for 2m in Greater Denver area

DENVER (AP) — Officials in five Denver area counties on Wednesday issued stay-at-home orders affecting more than 2 million people in an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

After the orders for Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties take effect Thursday, around half of Colorado’s 5.7 million people will be under some kind a stay-at-home order. The orders took effect in Denver and the Aspen area this week and in the Telluride area last week. Broomfield County is suburban Denver issued an order Wednesday that encourages people to stay in their homes as much as possible.

The latest round of mandatory orders contains a number of exemptions. Liquor stores and gun shops will remain open partly to prevent panic buying. People can still exercise outdoors and use parks but only in groups of four or less. Tennis courts, golf courses and basketball courts will be closed to prevent groups from gathering.

Businesses considered non-essential can only keep operating through employees working from home. Grocery and hardware stores, banks, laundromats and landscapers are among the businesses exempted. Child care centers can keep operating but only with groups of 10 children or less in rooms.

People did not seem to be taking previous warnings and actions, like the closure of restaurants, seriously and false information, such as COVID-19 being akin to the flu, has persisted, Jefferson County Public Health executive director Mark Johnson said. He hopes the orders help make people realize how serious the outbreak is.

“This is truly the greatest public health crisis this nation has seen at least since 1918,” he said

As of Tuesday, Colorado had more than 900 cases of the virus and 11 people have died, according to the state health department.