Updated: Apr 27, 2020
In Colorado, the governor’s present Stay at Home Order issued in response to the Covid-19 health crisis and the corresponding Public Health Order expire April 26, 2020. The same day, Governor Polis is expected to issue a “Safer at Home Order” to take effect on April 27 as Colorado enters a second level of social distancing.
While many Colorado horse facilities likely fell under the definition of a “Critical Business” permitted to “operate as normal” during the Stay at Home Order, there were varied interpretations as to whether and to what extent horse owners were permitted to visit their boarded horses. This led to a varied response by facilities. Some closed to boarders; some did not but implemented restrictive measures allowing boarders on site with staggered schedules to minimize contact between people.
What is expected in the Safer at Home Order to be issued April 27?
With the anticipated new Safer at Home Order, Coloradoans won’t be ordered but instead will be “strongly encouraged” to stay at home, and Critical Businesses will continue to remain open with the same social distancing requirements (six-foot distances, proper hand-washing, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces), and mask-wearing requirements as before. With appropriate precautions in place, the following businesses will be newly allowed to operate:
Retail curbside delivery, followed by phased in public openings
Elective medical and dental procedures
Beginning May 1, personal services (salons, dog grooming, etc)
Beginning May 4, offices can permit up to 50% of staff in person
Activities still prohibited will include gatherings of more than 10 people. Members of the public are still strongly encouraged to continue social distancing measures (six-foot distances and masks in public), to limit “non-essential” travel, and to recreate close to home and no more than 10 miles away.
As our governor and experts have emphasized, the virus is not gone. We have only temporarily slowed its spread. People will continue to get sick, and a key goal is not stopping the virus completely but rather to keep the number of illnesses at any given time low enough for the health system to adequately manage it. Modeling indicates that the number of illnesses at a given time is likely to surge dramatically again without protective measures in place. Thus, we have this anticipated plan for gradual re-openings with continued stringent protective measures.
What does this mean for horse businesses, and what should they be doing?
While the new Safer at Home Order is not yet issued, it appears to this author that horse facilities likely will not be required to prohibit horse owners from coming to the property, if they were required to before. But what is clear from prior orders and likely to be clear in future orders is that facilities still must maintain stringent adherence to protective measures to protect against spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
If you have not already, think through all of the potential activities and potential interactions at your facility and develop and implement policies and procedures for property usage by staff and clients that complies with physical distancing, mask-wearing, group gathering, hand-washing, and cleaning requirements and guidelines. Check your local authorities for orders and guidelines that may differ from the state's; many are extending stay-at-home orders beyond April 26. Maintain open communication with your community, your staff and your clients. Establish expectations early and welcome conversation. Being open to communication with your staff and clients can facilitate better relations and better compliance with your policies. There is likely no one-size-fits-all plan.
Are there liability risks to opening your barn, and, conversely, liability risks to keeping your barn closed? There are risks at any turn in the horse business, not just from coronavirus. Perhaps a better question to ask yourself is have you educated yourself about the risks (of infection or of potential liability), how significant they are, and about what measures are required or recommended? Have you then carefully evaluated, weighed, and taken proactive measures to minimize the risks that exist to your employees, to your clients, and to the horses in your care? This includes not only measures in the barn regarding physical activities to protect against the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but also measures to ensure your business is prepared in other ways, for example, your contracts are adequately drafted and implemented, and you have available insurance is in place—things that well-run businesses do in normal times. There is no time like the present to plan for bringing as much semblance of normalcy back to barn life as can be done, with appropriate measures in place.
Note: Laws change and individual circumstances vary and change, especially in this time of coronavirus! If you are in need of legal assistance, seek legal counsel. This post is not intended and should not be relied on as legal advice for your particular circumstance, and it relies on information that can quickly become out of date. Contact Margrit with any questions, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-481-2866.