Polis urges Coloradans to wear cloth masks in public

Governor's guidance on COVID-19 comes as White House is expected to issue similar advice

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Gov. Jared Polis wants Colorado “converting to a mask culture.”

That's how the governor put it during a news conference where he urged Coloradans to wear face coverings any time they go out of the house for groceries or other essential reasons.

“If you've been around grocery stores, you're noticing people are wearing cloth masks,” Polis said at the April 3 conference. “We want everyone to model that behavior.”

Pausing at multiple points in the news conference to put on his own Colorado-themed cloth mask and speak through it, Polis referenced Asian countries — such as South Korea — that have had notable success in containing COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus.

Those countries “already have a strong mask culture,” and in Japan, for instance, if people are ill, they wear masks on the street “even on a normal day,” Polis said.

At the time, the White House had been expected to advise Americans to wear cloth masks in public in areas where COVID-19 is widespread, according to national news outlets. Shortly after Polis' address, President Donald Trump announced the guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says to wear cloth face coverings in crowded public settings such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

The governor framed the need to wear masks as “your patriotic duty,” adding that the more people wear masks and stay home, the sooner the state can lift restrictions such as its stay-at-home order.

The masks are “literally allowing us to return to work sooner” and save more lives, Polis said.

The governor drew a distinction, though: Medical masks such as “N95s” should be reserved for medical workers, but everyone else is advised to make masks out of fabric in their home, such from old T-shirts, Polis said.

“It's about making it cool so everyone else will do it,” Polis said, urging Coloradans to show their creativity on social media. Polis, who has been vocal about leaning on public buy-in and voluntary compliance in fighting the spread of COVID-19, showed a public service announcement-style video from Nathaniel Rateliff, a Denver-based folk rock artist, encouraging the public to wear masks.

Fashioning a mask out of a T-shirt with scissors and tying it is what Polis advised, also suggesting using a rubber band. A bandana or towel can also work, a governor's office news release suggested.

“Studies show there is really every reason to use these non-medical masks,” said Polis, adding that fabrics can filter the respiratory droplets that transfer the virus. Those droplets are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to the CDC.

The CDC has announced that up to one in four people infected with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, a governor's office news release said. Face coverings help lower the risk of spreading by people who may not realize they are sick, according to the release.

After a use of the mask, Coloradans should put it in a washing machine or, if a home doesn't have one, wash it in the hot water in the sink, Polis said. He suggested Coloradans wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and wash their faces afterward.

Wearing a mask indoors won't protect a person from a household member who has COVID-19 — they still need to be isolated at home, Polis said.

The state has partnered with an effort called the Colorado Mask Project and is working with private partners who are donating at least 100,000 masks a week. Those will be distributed to Colorado's “vulnerable residents” and workers, according to another official at the news conference. That includes homeless service providers and people experiencing homelessness, according to the governor's office news release.

Polis repeated that it is “very likely” the statewide stay-at-home order will need to be extended. He mentioned the White House social distancing guidelines' new end date of April 30 but didn't confirm how long Colorado's order would last if extended.

The order — which requires Coloradans to stay home except to leave for certain necessities, such as shopping for groceries or caring for a family member — went into effect March 26, and the effect it has on COVID-19's spread won't be clear until around April 7, due to how long symptoms can take to appear, according to the governor. The order has an expiration date of April 11.

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