Polis: White House COVID-19 Safety Protocols Weren't Good Enough

Colorado Governor Jared Polis in the White House before a meeting with President Donald Trump in May.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis in the White House before a meeting with President Donald Trump in May.
During an October 2 press conference updating Colorado residents about the spread of COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis offered sympathetic remarks about infections suffered by President Donald Trump and other members of the White House staff. But he also made it clear that those living and working in the building had taken unnecessary risks by declining to follow key safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus.

"It's important for all workplaces to put strong precautions in place," Polis said from the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley during a tour of Weld and Larimer counties, "and I think the White House didn't have strong enough precautions around mask-wearing and social distancing. We want better than that for you and for me."

Trump's health was at the top of the event's agenda. "I want to express on behalf of Colorado our wishes for all those associated with the COVID-19 outbreak in the White House to have a full recovery, including, of course, the president and his wife and all of those affected," Polis said after introductory remarks. He then added, "We also wish a speedy recovery for everyone affected by COVID-19 across the world."

Wildfires continue to rage in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, and Polis urged people with coughs, shortness of breath and other similar symptoms to be tested for COVID-19 to discover if they're suffering from the smoky air or if they've contracted the disease. He also paid tribute to Colorado-based firefighter and pilot Ricky Fulton, who recently died in an air tanker crash while battling a blaze in Idaho.

Polis's discussion of current COVID-19 data involved hospitalizations. At least 200 people are currently receiving care at Colorado medical facilities because of the virus. That's the highest total since August 9, and nearly double the 120 people hospitalized for it just two weeks ago. Nine of the past fourteen days have shown an upward trend in cases, with hospitalizations rising during eleven days of the previous two weeks, and while Polis stressed that these numbers are not yet at a point where they're straining care capacity, "what worries us is the trend." To turn the figures in the right direction, Polis encouraged Coloradans to "really bear down" and improve on mask-wearing, social distancing, hand washing and the like.

Polis said he continues to believe that Colorado is past the halfway point of the pandemic, and hopes that a vaccine will be available for first responders and other front-line workers by year's end, with wider accessibility for the general public over the first months of 2021.

Until then, testing is important, and Polis suggested that Weld County needs to improve in that area given a positivity rate of 4.51 per 100,000, which is considerably higher than in Larimer County or Colorado as a whole. He listed numerous free testing sites in northern Colorado and other cities and counties in the state.

Polis then ceded the spotlight to the day's guests: Office of Economic Development and International Trade Executive Director Betsy Markey, Department of Local Affairs Executive Director Rick Garcia and Greeley-area Representative Mary Young. They talked about assorted grants and programs available to help businesses, nonprofits and individuals having trouble paying their rent or mortgages, and praised the overall response of the legislature in terms of creating an economic safety net.

A subsequent question-and-answer session began with Polis urging Congress to pass additional funding to support local governments, small businesses, farmers, ranchers and others. He also addressed workplace safety in light of the losses suffered by employees at Greeley's JBS plant, which experienced one of the state's largest and most tragic COVID-19, and shared his confidence that high school football can be played with reasonable safety during the fall. He also offered a pitch for folks who had been planning to travel internationally to instead visit other parts of Colorado in order to give a boost to the struggling tourism industry.

Still, many of Polis's remarks returned to the outbreak at the White House, which he visited in May. "I was there, and I got tested before I got in" to meet with the president, he recalled. "But while testing is very important, testing alone is not the answer. We also need to continue in the coming weeks and months with social distancing and mask-wearing to be safe," he said, for reasons that "we saw at the White House."
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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