Coronavirus, Featured, Governor Polis, Original Report, Politics, Sherrie Peif

Essential vs non-essential; some say lockdown orders arbitrarily picking winners and losers

DENVER — With thousands of laid off and furloughed Coloradans waiting to learn when they may get to go back to work, some of them are also wondering who decided what is and what isn’t deemed essential.

“People still have a job selling paint at Walmart, but I can’t get my tooth fixed,” said Rebecca McAlister, a Windsor resident who was scheduled to get a root canal before the lock down order shut down her dentist’s office to such procedures, she said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

McAlister’s sentiment is becoming more and more prevalent as the many who live paycheck to paycheck grow frustrated with no job, depleting resources and no real timeline for when the economic shutdown may start to lift..

Adding to the frustrations are industries where governments are seemingly picking winners and losers. Perhaps the most recent example is that of Fort Collins head shop owner Jonah Ricke, who was arrested after refusing to shut down his business “One Love,” in both Fort Collins and Loveland.

The 32-year-old was booked on charges of unlawful acts under a public health law and obstructing government operations.  Ricke told the Fort Collins Coloradoan his store sells the same products sold in other retail businesses that are allowed to stay open.

According to his Facebook page, Ricke’s business sells, tobacco/nicotine products, rolling papers, bongs, food, beverages, etc.

But smoke shops are deemed nonessential and ordered closed, while all those same items can still be legally sold in marijuana dispensaries, grocery stores, and convenience stores.

Other examples are nurseries and garden centers, appliance and furniture businesses and craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, yet Walmart and Home Depot remain open to shoppers for those same items.

Even medical care is being decided based on subjective decisions about what is elective and what is necessary. After initially being shut down, chiropractors and optometrists are now allowed to determine on a case-by-case basis if patients can wait until non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen. However, dentists and orthodontists are still unable to see patients unless it is an emergency.

“Most of the patients we see are Medicaid patients,” one dentist told Complete Colorado in a previous report. “It costs the hospital a hundred times as much to pull a tooth in the ER. I can do it under Medicaid for $160. I can pull the tooth and give the patient antibiotics and send them on their way.”

But while specialty medical services are considered non-essential, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and even the Colorado Lottery are allowed to remain open.

Additionally, the guidance changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While the governor has allowed state parks and golf courses to remain open, some municipalities have closed trails and open space. And some counties have even limited what stores like Walmart can sell.

In Summit County, aisles that contain items not deemed essential by the county health director have been shut down at big box stores such as Walmart while the store is not limited to such items as grocery and pharmacy.

Even the ending date of the stay-at-home order is blurred. Colorado’s statewide order is currently in place until April 26, while the city and county of Denver is shut down until April 30. Colorado school districts are mandated to stay shut until April 30 under the governor’s orders, but many districts have announced they’ve chosen to close through the end of the year, and still others are hoping to get back into the classroom in May.

“As some of you may have already heard, some school districts in Colorado have made the decision to keep school buildings closed and continue with remote learning for the remainder of the school year,” Greeley-Evans School District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch wrote in an announcement on the district’s website. “Greeley-Evans School District 6 is choosing not to join these districts … if there is even a glimmer of hope that we might be able to gather again as a school community before the end of May, we want to hold onto it – for our students, for our staff and for our parents. We fully realize this may not happen and we still believe in the power of hope.”

That idea leaves many teachers who have contacted Complete Colorado nervous as many of the district’s students are children of now shut down JBS beef plant’s workers, who have been severely impacted by the virus.

“It makes no sense,” said one teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “The virus isn’t going away on May 1st. These kids are exposed to their parents and then come to school and expose other students who will go home and expose their families and on and on. And what about our teachers who are nearing retirement and in the age bracket that is at risk. The district cannot ask us to go back into those buildings.

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