Inching toward winter and another stay-at-home order to curb the spread of surging virus cases, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Friday once again censured the U.S. Congress for having yet to pass a relief package at a time when unemployment soars, greater revenue loss looms and federal emergency funds are nearly one month away from running dry.
“The utter failure and refusal of Congress to help is shameful,” Hancock said in a press conference, as he detailed tighter restrictions on the city. “At time of national crisis, with lives and livelihoods at stake, the fact that some elected officials are chasing conspiracy theories about the election, undermining democracy, still debating the usefulness of masks, is simply appalling to me.”
The coronavirus is exploding across the country, with all 50 states reporting rising cases. More than 250,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, including at least 2,355 Coloradans and nearly 500 Denverites.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new risk category, “Level Purple,” which prevents Denver and numerous other counties from entering a stay-at-home order. However, the new public health order now prohibits indoor dining, curtails capacity allowances at offices, gyms and other publicly accessible buildings, and requires restaurants enforce last call for alcohol at 8 p.m.
Several Denver council members weighed in on the new restrictions, echoing the mayor’s condemnation of Congress’ failure to help in a time when their constituents need it most.
“We cannot afford to shut down without support from the federal government, and at the same time, we cannot afford to keep our entire economy going,” Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said in a phone interview. “It’s a sad and incredibly frustrating reality.”
Sawyer said, if she had it her way, she would “probably” call for a two-week shutdown. “But I can armchair quarterback this just as well as anybody else,” she quipped with a laugh.
“At the end of the day, we have to rely on health officials. And the answer, unfortunately, is that we can't afford to shut down without the assistance of the federal government. And we are not getting it. They are failing us.”
“Governing doesn't get any tougher than abandonment by your federal government in the ninth month of a pandemic, on the precipice of winter,” Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech wrote in an email. However, she said she “fully supported” the latest restrictions and “in-person dining, where we know masks cannot be worn.”
Councilwoman Kendra Black said her “heart breaks for our restaurants, but this is the right thing for now.” She “implored” residents to support local restaurants by buying takeout as they are able.
Councilman Chris Hinds told Colorado Politics the “overwhelming majority” of residents he has surveyed agree Denver should take it a step further and move into a full stay-at-home order.
“I am disappointed that our U.S. president hasn't provided additional support for working families and mom and pop businesses so they're not casualties of what ultimately needs to happen,” Hinds wrote in an email.
Councilwoman At-Large Debbie Ortega lauded the mayor and the governor for striving to “balance out policies focused on keeping everyone safe and keeping some areas of commerce open,” considering “the lack of a national plan.”
For now, the city’s tighter restrictions are “needed to slow the spread,” agreed Council President Stacie Gilmore. “The health and well-being of our Denver residents is the city’s number one priority.”
Councilman Paul Kashmann did not say whether the latest policies were the right ones, but rather acknowledged the challenges faced by those who must decide which are.
“I’m not going to second guess those that are making the hard decisions needed to keep our families safe and our businesses afloat. I understand the disruption caused by these restrictions. And I am equally aware of the overwhelming burden the increasing infection rate is placing on our healthcare system and first responders,” he wrote in an email.
“I will urge all Denverites to honor what science has told us, and wear a mask when in the presence of others outside your immediate household, observe social distancing recommendations out in public and avoid unnecessary trips and social gatherings until our COVID numbers return to more manageable levels.”
The Denver Republican Party did not return Colorado Politics' request for comment.