Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet called the phase of recovery Colorado is in right now the “muddled middle” during a virtual town hall with other local public officials Thursday evening, as the state continues its emergence from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in a patchwork fashion that won’t be the same for everyone.
“Douglas County has been in a unique position in regards to the metro area when it comes to COVID,” the mayor said during the meeting. “We have been very fortunate that our public health numbers have been significantly lower than in the rest of the Denver metro region.”
Millet joined Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul on the hour-long call, and Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova and RTD Board Chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede also participated.
Millet pointed out that Douglas County, home to Lone Tree, began opening up a “hair sooner” than most other counties in the metro area because its health data indicated it could. Last week, state officials granted the county a variance to open restaurants, houses of worship, gyms and the Park Meadows mall with crowd controls in place.
Millet cited the reopening of Park Meadows as the revving of a major economic engine in Douglas County, which has been quiet since March. The mall has 67 stores in operation currently, the mayor said, with 80 expected to be up and running by this weekend.
“The reason our businesses were able to open was because of our public health data,” Millet said.
She said there have not been any new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county in at least a week.
Hancock, who led the call, highlighted the collaboration between metro-area communities as critical in helping slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease brought on by a coronavirus infection. He praised his fellow community leaders for getting ahead of the state on stay-at-home orders in March.
“The whole goal of the region to move as quickly as we did was to protect life,” Hancock said. “If there ever was a time that showed us how inextricably we are connected, this is that time. With the common interests, common concerns, common vulnerabilities, common opportunities, common challenges, COVID has revealed that for us.”
On Thursday, state health officials posted data showing COVID-19 cases in Colorado now exceed 25,100 while deaths directly caused by the disease have mounted to 1,168.
Coffman said Aurora is getting behind the rebound in various ways, one of those being grants and loans that the city is giving to businesses with 50 employees or fewer. It is also giving rental assistance to those who lost a job because of coronavirus closures.
The mayor also said the city had engaged in an “incredibly unique” effort to take those experiencing homelessness and place them in a renovated motel to recover from the disease rather than take up beds at a hospital.
“They need a place to recover safely, and we do it,” Coffman said.
Paul said Lakewood, which received $10 million to $12 million in CARES Act money approved by the federal government in late March, is in the midst of preparing a business assistance package of up to $4 million for businesses in the city.
The mayor said Jefferson County is also preparing to send in a variance request to the state on Friday asking that it be allowed to open up churches, gyms and recreation centers, among other gathering spots. Dozens of municipalities and counties in Colorado have petitioned the state to allow them to loosen restrictions faster than the state stipulates.
“Once that’s granted, you’ll see more things opening up in the communities,” Paul said.
But the mayor was also blunt about the long way to go in battling the virus. And that much damage has been done — damage that will have repercussions on businesses and events through the coming months.
“The city right now is looking at furloughs, layoffs — looking at capital projects and everything and anything that can be examined to see how we move forward with the losses we are going to realize,” Paul said. “The pain is real among everybody in the community, and I’m afraid to say it’s going to continue for a while.”