Polis is one of three Democratic governors who this week are moving to reopen certain businesses. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock allowed houses of worship to open Sunday and retail stores Monday. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is allowing certain manufacturers and offices that do not have in-person interaction with clients to open. Other states, including Texas, announced plans to open their states more broadly this week.
In Colorado, the state's stay-at-home order expired Monday, ceding to a tapered plan to reopen the state, beginning with curbside retail sales and elective surgeries Monday. In-person shopping can begin Friday, and barber shops, salons, tattoo parlors and other personal-care businesses can open, as well. Offices can open with half their workforce May 4. All businesses must maintain strict social distancing.
At a news conference in Denver on Monday, Polis said the state "achieved what we wanted to achieve" during the stay-at-home order, including slowing the spread of the virus and increasing health-care capacity. The next phase will include managing the spread of the virus and learning to live with social distancing. Deaths and infection rates have declined in recent days, but Polis has said he is concerned about the potential for a second spike.
Nearly 14,000 Colorado residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 700 have died.
But the state landscape will not be uniform. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) has extended the city's stay-at-home order until May 8, and suburban counties have followed suit. In Greeley, commissioners decided the county needed to get back to business. In a statement, the county commissioners said each heard from constituents who were struggling to pay their bills and take care of their families. The commissioners said preventive measures need to be heeded when businesses reopen.
"What we aren't going to do is pick winners and losers as to who gets to restart their livelihoods," the statement said. "At the end of the day, everyone has freedoms: freedom to stay home, freedom to go out, and freedom to support whatever business they want to support.
Polis said Monday that any counties that disregard his phased reopening order are violating the law and jeopardizing emergency preparedness grants.
Greeley and the rest of Weld County weren't exactly back to normal Monday. Restaurants remained shuttered, offering carryout and delivery only, and many businesses that may soon take advantage of the new rules remained closed, including most spas, salons, barber shops and tattoo shops.
But the Bar.Ber.Shop was open. Reclining in a barber's chair with white, black and gray clumps of hair at his feet, Ruzic, 48, said the measures taken to stem the spread of the virus in Boulder County, where he lives, were too strict.
"Boulder is always too extreme in anything," he said. "They're going for safety and what they think is right."
But Ruzic needed a haircut.
"It was brutal," he said of his graying locks. "I started having weird waves. It was turning white."
At the Man Cave, a small men's salon, Stephanie Church, 28, pressed a straight razor to the neck of her first customer since March 26.
"I probably could've come in and done some haircuts," she said, "but it wouldn't have been worth losing my license and paying the fine."
Wearing a cloth mask over her face, Church said she thinks she had the virus in late January. She experienced a fever, respiratory issues, headaches and loss of taste, but she never got tested and went back to work after four days, knowing nothing of the virus until weeks later.
"Personally, I think this whole thing is overblown, she said. "I wonder, if we used the precautions we're using now five weeks ago, if we never would have had to close."
Weld County's decision comes days after the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley reopened following a coronavirus outbreak at the plant. More than 120 plant workers tested positive for the virus and five died, according to Kim Cordova, president of United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that represents plant workers.
Vice President Pence and company officials had said that all employees would be tested, but Cordova said not all employees have been tested for the virus.
"By reneging on this promise and opening the JBS plant up last week despite not testing every worker, Weld County will continue to be a covid-19 hot spot in Colorado since many workers could be presently infected and asymptomatic, spreading coronavirus in the plant and the community," Cordova said in a statement.
JBS did not return a request for comment. The company told Colorado Public Radio last week that instead of testing employees, "the company took the more aggressive action to self-quarantine Greeley beef employees during the plant closure."
Down the street from the meat packing plant, state officials funneled potential coronavirus patients through hundreds of orange cones arranged in the parking lot of Island Grove Regional Park, where men and women in white hazmat suits evaluated symptoms and tested people for the virus.
Colorado Medical Society president and chair David S. Markenson said the state needs to increase testing.
"We have not had the testing capacity we want for a broader reopening and to prevent resurgence," he said.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) gave most retailers, movie theaters and restaurants the green light to reopen their businesses with limited capacity after more than a month of residents staying home, workers losing jobs and families struggling to pay bills.
The order supersedes local stay-at-home ordinances that are in place in most of the state's biggest cities. The move could set the stage for a clash between the governor and some leaders of Texas's largest metropolitan areas, where the virus's toll has been more acute, over how a gradual reopening will work.
Abbott emphasized that as of May 1, business owners, not the government, will decide whether to reopen.
"This is permission to open, not a requirement," Abbott said. Businesses must limit occupancy to 25 percent in this first phase of reopening and implement social distancing standards.
More than 25,000 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 663 have died.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) said his city has achieved a "93 percent reduction in infectivity" and had successfully flattened the curve of infections. More than 800 people are being tested for the virus each day in Austin, Adler said. But he said it is still not enough, and he worries about places that have not increased their testing capacity. Adler said he worries that infections could spike if reopening moves too quickly and cities aren't able to try to control infection rates with local rules.
"The risk is having to do this a second time and have people go back into a stricter sheltering-in-place order if the virus resurges," Adler said. If that happens, "we will do whatever we need to do to protect the public safety."
Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, said there is a way for businesses to resume operations safely. He is part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's advisory team developing guidelines for each industry on how best to keep customers and employees safe. They are investigating whether having barbers dressed more like dentists or having customers make appointments at car dealerships and shutting down showrooms are solutions that will make in-person interactions more safe.
Texans, he said, need hope.
"We Texans like to work," Moseley said. "This is really hard-hitting so we've got to find a way to get people to come back to work and use safety as our north star."
Texas has lagged in per capita testing but Abbott said the models he is consulting show the state's new infection rates have declined. The governor deployed National Guard teams around the state to set up 25 mobile testing sites to help push the number of daily tests higher. Texas should soon have the capacity to test 25,000 people a day, said John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In rural counties with less than five active cases of the coronavirus — about half of the state — businesses can increase occupancy to 50 percent. But gyms, bars, hair salons and barber shops will have to wait until mid-May to open if two weeks of data show no infection surges.
In El Paso, an isolated high desert metropolitan miles from any other major city, officials say they need more time.
"El Paso is not ready at this point," said County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, who owns three barber shops. "We are right in the middle of the peak, and it's difficult to expand business when we and our neighbor, Juarez, are suffering."
Klemko reported from Greeley, Colo., and Hernández from San Antonio. Samantha Pell contributed reporting from Washington.