On the first day of summer, I woke up outside of Colorado for the first time in more than three months. Ninety-nine days had passed since the state recorded its first death from COVID-19; we'd stayed at home, we'd stayed safer at home, and were now venturing out. As we'd planned our road trip north, we'd noticed that both Wyoming and Montana were seeing a rise in cases...but then, on June 20, Colorado was trending red, too, after a couple of promising weeks.
Governor Jared Polis took note of the dispiriting stats in that day's announcement extending Colorado's state of emergency well into July, to "further support our response efforts and remain prepared in the face of this global pandemic." In announcing the extension, he acknowledged that "data is now starting to show a reversal of some of our gains," and spent enough time praising companies vigilant in their enforcement of mask requirements — Costco, Pizzeria Locale — that it wasn't hard to guess the next step to fight additional "reversal" of gains might be more mandatory face-covering requirements.
That's a very small price to pay to increase public safety. Despite the ongoing controversy over the efficacy of masks, if they keep people even a modicum safer — and those with certain health issues (not to be confused with ego or misguided notions of freedom) are exempted from wearing them — what's the big deal?
But proper mask etiquette could require significant education for some tourists driving south — and east, west, north — into Colorado.
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As we crossed into Wyoming, we noticed that masks had become extremely optional...not just on customers, but on employees serving those customers at gas stations, restaurants, hotels. And although we spotted social distancing guidelines marked on floors in some establishments, in others it was impossible to even see the floor because people were crammed so close together.
In a state where population centers are divided by so much mileage, perhaps the social becomes much more important than the distance when people finally come together. Perhaps it just seems that no virus could cross those wide-open spaces. Or perhaps it's as simple as this: No one can figure out the rules right now.
Four days later, as COVID-19 cases spiked and more and more of the country moved into the red, I was back in Denver, after taking my first plane flight since a hasty trip to Tucson on March 10 to bring my mother back to Colorado, back to family. The rules, particularly regarding mask recommendations, have changed a lot since then. But some things have not. You want to keep the people you love safe. You want to stay safe. And you'd like to keep those you don't know safe, too...and hope they return the favor.
In Missoula, the attendant at the United desk noted that not only were masks required on the plane, but they were mandatory throughout Denver International Airport. Through mine, I breathed a sigh of relief when I was back in the Mile High City.
I'll be happy to be grounded in Colorado for a while.
While I was on the road, Westword was putting the final touches on its annual Summer guide, our June 25 issue (if you didn't grab one on the stands, you can see it all here). We've published an edition devoted to all the cool events in this state's hottest season for decades, but never has it been more challenging, and never more important, to remember all the reasons that it is indeed a privilege to live in Colorado. Here, the great outdoors are greater than ever; if you can enjoy them in relative solitude, they're also the safest place you can be outside of your basement bunker.
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And a whole lot more beautiful.
But the stunning scenery isn't the only reason Colorado is so attractive to tourists, whether they're residents traveling within its borders or visitors from outside venturing in. The state is full of fabulous homegrown attractions, from disc golf courses to crazy castles to inviting patios, and the entrepreneurs behind them are all working hard this summer to provide safe havens. Entertainment events, art shows and music venues are also starting to make comebacks. They're all part of the summer we celebrate in the June 25 issue, the summer that really gets in gear as the Fourth of July weekend approaches.
On July 1, the Colorado Tourism Office will reopen its welcome centers on the borders of Colorado, as part of its Colo-Ready campaign revised to accommodate Polis's Safer at Home in the Vast, Great Outdoors phase. "As you visit Colorado," the state's tourism website notes, "we encourage you to embrace our new interpretation of responsible tourism — showing care not only for our destinations, but for our visitors and the people who call Colorado home."
But make that embrace from a safe distance, please.