Stay at home orders in Colorado and most states throughout the nation have become reluctantly commonplace. Specific mandates in response to the COVID-19 outbreak remain confusing, particularly when it comes to socialization or the definition of an “essential business.”
Even more troubling are the penalties for violating the coronavirus-driven mandates.
New Laws For A New Normal
Fear was already a significant factor when the deadly virus spread throughout Colorado and the country. Threats of criminal repercussions for not abiding by newly established rules only added to the anxiety. With limited verbiage in the mandate, what is not known is more than what is known. Rumors are creating confusion, if not outright misinformation.
Currently, Governor Jared Polis’ order calls for a fine up to $1,000 and a year in jail for failing to social distance at six feet, gather in crowds, drive when it is not essential, or fail to wash hands for a minimum of 15 seconds. By comparison, heroin possession carries the same criminal consequences.
Law enforcement leaders believe that education should be the priority with citations and arrests as a last resort. Those traveling in cars would only be asked about their destinations if probable cause existed for another traffic violation. Crowds can be dispersed. Standing too close to someone should result in a gentle reminder of the current environment.
However, leaders are standing behind their decisions as orders, not recommendations. Denver has seen no serious violations reported to date. Overall crime is down by nearly a third. Yet, police departments statewide have their orders to be mindful of any violations. Anonymous tips continue to roll in with many reporting socially-related “crimes” and nonessential businesses that remain in operation.
Although Polis’ order is set to end towards the end of April, the definition of a crime has changed, even if it is only temporary. With it comes a reality as unsettling as any global pandemic.