Polis avoids mask rule despite 'warning lights' in Colorado

Without 'course correction,' hospital capacity could be threatened, he said


After the number of current COVID-19 hospitalizations across Colorado jumped by nearly 40% in less than a week, Gov. Jared Polis again stressed the importance of wearing masks, but still stopped short of issuing a rule.

“I'm really hopeful that the people of Colorado are taking these red blinking warning lights seriously and that we're upping our game,” Polis said at a July 14 news conference.

If Coloradans care “about saving lives,” Polis argued, the steps to take are simple: Socialize 20% less, avoid large gatherings and wear masks when near others. He contrasted those methods with the “radical adjustments to our lifestyle that we had to do in April” during Colorado's stay-at-home order.

But state officials have acknowledged several times that the state could see stay-at-home orders again if the pandemic becomes dire enough in Colorado. Coronavirus cases in the state have seen an upswing for roughly the past month.

At a news conference earlier in July, 181 were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado. On July 14, the state's tally stood at 252, Polis said.

A wave of orders to wear face coverings has washed over Colorado — and the country — including in Boulder, Denver and Larimer counties and the cities of Westminster, Northglenn, Englewood and Fort Collins, along with many others.

The City of Golden, and then Jefferson County as a whole, are among localities to issue mask mandates.

But the governor was still betting on persuasion instead of an order, hoping to try “every method of communication” to try to convince Coloradans to wear masks, he said.

“Coloradans value their bodily autonomy and their liberty, but the reason this issue is more complex is it's not so much about just your rights — it's also about protecting the right to live of those who are impacted by your decisions,” Polis said. “We have speeding laws in Colorado … When you make a decision to go 89, 90 miles an hour and put yourself at risk, that's one thing, but when you put other drivers at risk, that's another.”

Polis, who at times during the pandemic has bet on buy-in, or voluntary compliance, from the public on COVID-19 safety steps, made a scientific — if sharply worded — appeal in posting an article on his Facebook page July 12 from the University of California, Davis.

“The emerging scientific data is clear: Wearing a mask doesn't only protect others, it also significantly reduces your own risk of getting coronavirus. So if you're a selfish bastard and wearing a mask to protect others isn't enough of a reason to do so, then maybe protecting yourself is?” the governor wrote in the post.

At a July 9 news conference, Polis said: "If you're somehow waiting to wear a mask until the governor tells you to, I hope you've heard that I'm telling you to. And if I haven't been clear, I'm telling you to wear a mask: Wear a damn mask."

Asked during his July 14 news conference about the harsh language, Polis said that “some react to humor, some react to blunt statements, some react to data, some react to peer pressure” and that he wants to try every angle he can to bring about more mask-wearing.

He added that the state hasn't “ruled everything out,” suggesting he could consider an order at some point. Polis has argued such an order would be difficult for the state to enforce and that efforts with local enforcement capabilities are more effective.

More than half the state's population is under a mask mandate, according to Polis. In response to the question of whether more Coloradans would wear masks under a statewide mandate, Polis said officials are trying to get data on how mandates have affected compliance.

If data prove that orders increase mask wearing, “It would certainly help sway me toward particularly policies,” Polis said.

Asked what developments would warrant rolling back Colorado's reopening, Polis said the state's “north star” has always been the need to avoid exceeding its hospital capacity. Colorado isn't in danger of that right now, but the state's trajectory is troubling, he said.

“It's important that Coloradans make this course correction now so we're not in dire straits,” Polis said.

Colorado, COVID-19, Jared Polis, mask, order, Ellis Arnold


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