Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a flurry of executive orders Thursday night, directing the state to quickly shed nearly $230 million in expenses ahead of a Friday briefing at which he discussed living with coronavirus.
"How can we live with the virus without the spikes that lead to the emergency situation almost two months ago, nationally and internationally?" he asked estion during the briefing in a wooded area at his home in Boulder County.
In all, the governor issued nine executive orders late Thursday, set to expire in 30 days unless extended. Among them was an order that cancels or suspends $228.7 million in expenditures for the fiscal year that ends June 30 to maintain the state's statutory reserve requirements.
The vast majority of the cuts — $183 million — will come from the state's Medicaid services program, within the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. On Friday Polis said those cuts would include savings from Medicaid recipients seeking less frequent care for noncoronavirus related issues.
In a March 30 memo, the governor's budget staff told state agencies to find programs that could be suspended or canceled. Within the Department of Higher Education, that includes educator loan forgiveness programs, scholarships, teacher mentors and teaching stipends, all totaling about $2.1 million. Additionally, the state's popular anonymous threat reporting program, Safe2Tell, was cut by $45,000.
On Friday Polis briefly spoke about the budget-trimming order, which stated that Colorado would avoid layoffs or furloughs of state employees through the end of the fiscal year. But he dodged a question on whether that was something he would consider for the 2020-21 budget year.
Polis on Thursday also issued an order extending the ban on evictions due to nonpayment. "To be safer at home," he said, "Coloradans must continue to have a home." The order also extends to limitations on foreclosures and public utility disconnects, and continues to require expedited payment of unemployment insurance claims.
Yet another executive order increases payments, known as provider rates, to Medicaid-certified nursing homes and other nonhospital health care facilities to pay for pandemic care. The order does not specify how much those payments will increase.
Among the rest of the executive orders, Polis extended the closure of Colorado's downhill ski resorts to May 23, and extended the allowance of remote notarization. And you can still get an online marriage license under an extension of a previous order tied to the closures of county clerk and recorder offices.
Polis also delayed unitl June 1 when unaffiliated have to begin circulating petitions to qualify for the November ballot and when they have to be turned in until July 27.
Speaking on the same day Colorado retailers were allowed to reopen using social distancing precautions, Polis said that now is the time "not for fear, not for anxiety, but justified caution that we're all acting with.
On Friday the city and county of Denver announced they would issue a public health order beginning May 6 requiring anyone who enters, or is waiting in line to enter, certain businesses, facilities and locations to wear a face covering.
“When we’re at the grocery store, work or any other business, my face covering protects you and your face covering protects me,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a press release. “The virus isn’t going away any time soon. By wearing a face covering, you're doing your part to reduce the spread of infections and keep everyone safer.”
Multiple city and county agencies will be involved with enforcement, though law enforcement officers are unlikely to be involved, a spokeswoman for the city and county's joint information center said.
While the focus will be on education, someone who repeatedly violates the order could be fined up to $999, she added.
In other news:
• Colorado had 15,768 diagnosed cases of coronavius as of Friday, up from 15,284 yesterday, and 820 deaths, up from 777 Thursday.
• Also on Friday, Polis spoke about an interview with Colorado Public Radio on Thursday in which he said that the state had purchased 100,000 test kits from South Korea, but didn't announce it until the kits had arrived, to prevent the federal government from swooping in and taking them as it did with ventilators Colorado had ordered.
"The danger with the feds and the FEMA, in particular, is they often, you know, go to the front of the line in acquisitions," Polis told CPR's Ryan Warner. "This is what happened to us with regard to a ventilator acquisition where, you know, we were basically told by the legitimate company and the CEO that, look, FEMA has delayed all the state orders. So, you know, it's not canceled. Maybe you'll get it someday in six months. But basically FEMA is buying our entire production for four months. We can't fulfill yours."
Polis said Friday that the state will continue to make those purchases in secret, holding off on announcements until those supplies have arrived.
• An 86-year-old male state prison inmate died Friday at the Sterling Regional Medical Center, the Colorado Department of Corrections said
The inmate, whose name has not been released, had been transported to the hospital on Monday after experiencing symptoms of COVID. He was tested for COVID while at the hospital.
The inmate has been in the Sterling Correctional Facility. The unit he lived in has been quarantined and inmates will continue to be monitored.
The DOC said since April 14, inmates at the prison have been kept in their cells except to shower and use restrooms. All meals and medications are delivered to inmates in their living units.
The inmate appears to be the first coronavirus-related death at a Colorado prison.