Colorado order limits gatherings to 10 or less; classes closed to at least April 17, but likely not to resume this spring

Polis mentions possibilty of a 'shelter in place' order

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With Colorado's number of COVID-19 cases continuing to spread to more counties — with two deaths as of March 18 — Gov. Jared Polis announced the state will issue more “social distancing” guidance and that school likely will not resume this spring.

“In the short term, the social distancing is likely to get more severe,” Polis said at a March 18 news conference. Social distancing means taking steps to put more space between people and avoid the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus.

Later that day, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered that all gatherings be limited to 10 people or less, including virtually any kind of events as well as "leisure" gatherings, according to the order. 

That includes gatherings in people's homes, according to the department.

Contrasting with the state's earlier language about limiting crowds — when it used words such as "recommend" and "guidance" — this action is a legal requirement.

It doesn't apply to normal operations at airports and transit stations, the state Legislature or Colorado courts, or stores and pharmacies — or office environments or factories where people maintain at least 6 feet between each other. Restaurants may continue to offer delivery and take-out food service.

The order is effective for 30 days starting March 19 but could be extended.

The governor's office also announced an executive order that suspends normal classes for all public and private P-12 schools, including public preschools on public school campuses, from March 23 to April 17.

The governor's comments came a couple days after the state ordered a month-long shutdown of dine-in service at restaurants and bars, along with the closure of theaters, gyms and casinos. Without even further measures, the damage to Colorado's economy and the loss of life caused by the virus could be “far worse” in the long term, Polis said.

Bay Area counties in California announced a shelter-in-place order for all residents from March 17 until at least April 7. People were advised to leave their homes only to take care of essential errands.

Polis said if Colorado needs a shelter-in-place order, the state needs to consider how long people can endure life under such restriction.

“You can't shut down everything forever,” Polis added.

The White House on March 16 issued guidance that people should avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 for the rest of the month. Shortly before, Colorado had updated its statewide guidelines, at the time recommending that events of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed.

It's possible that school might resume this spring but it's increasingly unlikely, Polis said.

“That doesn't mean learning stops,” Polis said, adding that remote learning should ensure students are ready to advance to the next grade level.

The Colorado Department of Education released a statement March 17 saying end-of-year assessments including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, “will be paused” for the rest of the school year due to extensive school closures throughout Colorado.

Polis' executive order closing classes also suspends state assessment requirements for this school year "to ensure assessments administered are able to produce valid results," the order says.

The state Department of Education will also pause the state accountability systems for schools and districts, which communicate performance on state tests, this year.

As for the PSAT and SAT, the department is collaborating with College Board to determine if the tests could still be administered, the news release said. The department will provide updates when available, and the public can access school-related information on COVID-19 at cde.state.co.us/safeschools.

The governor also announced he would extend the suspension of downhill ski area operations through April 6, according to a news release from his office. Previously, Polis issued an executive order suspending ski area operations until March 22. COVID-19 has spread throughout many mountain communities that include ski resorts, the release said.

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