Polis Is Labor Day Party-Pooper Over COVID-19

Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a press conference at Pueblo Community College earlier this week.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a press conference at Pueblo Community College earlier this week.
The theme of Colorado Governor Jared Polis's September 3 COVID-19 update was partying, and why it shouldn't take place on a large scale over the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

"We're at a very important inflection point as we head into Labor Day weekend," Polis said. "It's a time to build on our successes, with a particular focus on younger Coloradans — college students and others."

Polis's guests at the press conference included two college students, the University of Colorado Denver's David Holguin and the University of Denver's Dajah Brooks, both of whom spoke to their peers about the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and gathering in small groups or enjoying time with a few friends outside as opposed to throwing huge ragers that last for hour upon hour.

Also on hand was University of Colorado president Mark Kennedy, who is facing a crisis of his own at the institution's Boulder campus: At least thirteen students have tested positive on September 2 after a warning system that monitors wastewater for signs of the novel coronavirus flagged four on-campus dormitories. Kennedy didn't suggest that converting from on-site instruction to virtual learning was in the offing, even though Colorado College chose to make such a shift after ten positive student tests and another four probable infections. But neither did he shrug off the prospect down the line, should conditions change.

As usual, Polis offered a brief update on major COVID-19 figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: 268 cases today and a positivity rate slightly above 2 percent, the state's record low to date, and well below the 5 percent mark that alarms officials. He noted that Colorado's positivity rate back in March, around the beginning of the pandemic, was in the 15 to 20 percent range, as is currently the case in states such as Iowa and Kansas — and Alabama is around 30 percent, he said.

"We know this is a very volatile virus," Polis added, "and the virus is still here. Two hundred to three hundred people a day get it, sometimes more. If our responsible and smart behaviors let up, that's when the numbers will rev up. So we need to stay the course over Labor Day weekend."

In this context, he castigated "the disappointing, inexcusable actions of a small minority of students who, contrary to what their own national fraternal organizations said they should do, still held large illegal parties over the weekend." (Five fraternal organizations with Boulder chapters have received fines in recent days.)

Polis then added: "I know the vast majority of students, and the vast majority of the Greek system, are doing the right thing. Many of our higher education students care deeply about our community; the vast majority are taking precautions. ... Unfortunately, it only takes a few bad apples, a few bad decisions, to set a whole community back," since big bashes could result in "250 cases," whereas a small gathering with a few friends might lead to a handful at worst.

Several of CU's partner institutions "have had to cancel classes and go online," Polis acknowledged, stressing that "our behavior over Labor Day weekend is going to set the tone. We're really going to go after some of the very bad actors with fines and other sanctions."

After pitching weekend visits to some of Colorado's less crowded and more obscure recreational areas, reminding folks not to start open fires given the current drought conditions and ongoing blazes around the state, offering a platform for Colorado park ranger Michelle Suebert to give tips about safety in the great outdoors, and teasing a new art program to upgrade the look of driver's licenses, Polis took questions. He rejected the notion that college living is simply too risky during a pandemic, as did CU's Kennedy, who shared his belief that it's possible for the campus to stay open for the long haul.

Likewise, students Holguin and Brooks laughed off the idea that all of their peers are acting like "John Belushi in Animal House."

In conclusion, Polis once again used the dad voice he'd deployed back in July when warning Colorado teens not to party. "I hope students and young people across the state hear me loud and clear: This is not a joke," he emphasized. "We've lost nearly 2,000 Coloradans. So over Labor Day weekend, for goodness sake, please have compassion and act responsibly."