COVID-19: Polis on Why He's Extending Statewide Mask Order

Governor Jared Polis during an early-October visit to Distortions Unlimited, a Greeley business that makes Halloween props and theme animatronics.
Governor Jared Polis during an early-October visit to Distortions Unlimited, a Greeley business that makes Halloween props and theme animatronics.
During an October 9 press conference about COVID-19, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that he will extend the statewide order to wear facial coverings in public places for another thirty days; it was set to expire on Monday, October 12. He contextualized the decision by noting that the state is currently experiencing the most problematic data related to the novel coronavirus since July and August.

"We need to be better at wearing masks — not because I say to do it or because public-health officials say to do it," Polis allowed. "It's because you care about your health and your family and your neighbors and your job. That's why we're doing it."

At the outset of his remarks, Polis revealed that 834 new cases of the virus were reported on the 9th, with the total being similar to counts in recent days. Many of these infections will inevitably translate into an increase in hospitalizations, and Polis pointed out that this scenario carries with it the possibility of the state's health-care system being overwhelmed in ways that could make effective treatment more difficult for those with COVID-19 and other unrelated conditions, too.

Early in the pandemic, Polis recalled, Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents were over-represented when it came to hospitalizations — "but lately, the greatest growth in hospitalizations has been among white Coloradans." Caucasians once accounted for around 41 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, but that statistic has now risen to around 52 percent.

Likewise, hospitalization percentages have climbed in younger age groups, Polis continued. As a result, the average age of people currently hospitalized is down to 54, and hospital stays are averaging in the four-to-five-day range, with the experiences of individuals who get out after a day or two offset to a significant degree by folks who must receive care for weeks or even months before either recovering or passing away.

Hence, Polis said, Coloradans admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 are "younger and whiter" than ever before, and people in every age group are at risk. Around a quarter of those hospitalized are between sixty and 69, but 13.8 percent are in their forties and more than 6.5 percent are in their twenties.

Another change: Whereas the majority of hospitalizations have been occurring in metropolitan areas, the figures are increasing in more rural parts of the state, too. "This is truly a statewide phenomenon," Polis emphasized. "Here are the takeaways: This affects you. It doesn't matter your demographic."

Additional topics were also on the agenda. For instance, Polis touted an executive order about the distribution of $14.9 million in CARES Act funding, commented on House Minority Leader Patrick Neville's announcement that he won't seek a leadership role in the General Assembly during the next session, and offered an update on wildfires still burning in the state along with a series of safety tips to prevent more blazes from getting started. One bit of advice: Even when using a safety fire pit, individuals shouldn't walk away until the remnants are no longer hot to the touch.

He also touched on Halloween, maintaining that the holiday must be celebrated in a different way this year in order to enhance safety, and reminded revelers that the masks made for costumes aren't substitutes for facial coverings when it comes to preventing spread of the virus.

Still, other types of masks were the main topic during a question-and-answer session with journalists. Polis declined to say whether his statewide order is likely to remain in place until a safe and effective vaccine is available to the general public — early next year, according to most prognosticators. He also avoided providing specifics about the prospect of his personal safety being threatened by groups that feel mandates to wear masks and the like restricts their freedom, as recently happened in Michigan, where a plot by extremists to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer was foiled. But he did speak passionately about the need for Coloradans to reject COVID-19 fatigue and continue to make the sorts of smart choices that were commonplace during the periods when the state's case counts and hospitalizations were on the decline.

In his words, "Wear a damn mask."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts