Enforcement of public health orders

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Under Colorado law, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has the authority to close or limit access to theaters, schools, and other public places. The executive director also may forbid gatherings of people, or may seek isolation or quarantine of individuals, when necessary to protect the public health, and to investigate and control the causes of epidemic and communicable diseases affecting the public health. 

The impact of a pandemic — such as that presented by COVID-19 — can be best managed through limiting exposure to the virus. This imperative requires public health mandates that limit the situations where the virus can spread rapidly. By “physical distancing” and not having large gatherings, we will save lives, particularly of those most at-risk of severe illness from the virus, such as adults older than age 65 and those with pre-existing conditions. 

Yes, the executive director of CDPHE has issued public health orders to protect the public health and safety from the spread of COVID-19. Under Colorado law, it is unlawful for any person, association, or corporation to willfully violate, disobey, or disregard the provisions of the public health laws or the terms of this or any other public health order. 

Under the Safer-at-Home phase, local governments will have a variety of options when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus and protecting their communities:

  • Local governments can implement the guidelines of Safer-at-Home to match the state.
  • Local governments can have stricter guidelines than the state, including but not limited to stay-at-home orders or additional protective measures.
  • Local governments can have more relaxed guidelines than the state. To do so, local governments will need to demonstrate proof of 14 consecutive days of decline of infection of COVID-19 in the county. Local governments also must submit an application to CDPHE that includes a written COVID-19 suppression plan approved by the appropriate local public health authority, all hospitals within the jurisdiction, and elected leadership. 

Colorado residents should follow the state’s guidance unless their local government has received a variance from the state or is enforcing more restrictive orders than the state. 

Coloradans must follow the order in the community in which they are physically present at the time.

Yes. Any person, association, or corporation who violates the state order may be subject to civil and criminal penalties. Violation of a state public health order is a misdemeanor and can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. Individuals who violate an order may also be responsible for some costs of the health agencies in abating the cause of sickness, and could have a state license revoked, such as a restaurant, liquor, or professional license — subject to an enforcement action, including revocation.  Law enforcement has normal powers to address any criminal violations related to an order. Penalties differ at the county level.

Under Colorado law, counties and local public health agencies have the authority to administer and enforce an order. The state is recommending that local law enforcement and/or local public health agencies first reach out to the entity to seek voluntary compliance. However, local county attorneys or district attorneys can bring any civil or criminal action requested by the local public health director for a local violation of an order. A county attorney representing a local public health agency can seek a judge’s order in state court to force an individual or business to immediately comply with an order.

Under Colorado law, CDPHE has the authority to enforce an order. This may happen when a local public health agency is unable or unwilling to enforce an order. The Colorado Attorney General, representing CDPHE, can seek a judge’s order in state court to force an individual or business to immediately comply with an order or, where a district attorney is willing and able, can work with them to do so. 

Colorado law requires compliance with executive and public health orders; therefore, not following these orders is breaking the law. We all must do our part to ensure success, and call upon all people in Colorado to voluntarily comply. Local law enforcement agencies can enforce public health orders. State law enforcement will assist and support in any way requested, but voluntary compliance is critical. Law enforcement involvement is reserved for the most aggravated circumstances.

Gov. Polis has created an advisory board to support coordination across multiple jurisdictions on compliance and enforcement for Safer-at-Home with the goal of maximizing Social Distancing compliance. It will be specifically focused on how local governments and local public health can coordinate with the state on educating the public about these regulations, and maximizing compliance and enforcement efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.

It is mandatory.

No. The Colorado National Guard will be supporting logistics, transportation, and medical response efforts. The Guard will not be enforcing this order. 

People are advised to wear a non-medical cloth face covering or mask that covers the nose and mouth whenever in public, but it is not a requirement. You will not be fined or jailed. Again, we are calling on all Coloradans to voluntarily comply with the orders and recommendations.

Residents should contact their local public health agency to report any potential violations of an order.