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COVID-19 Update: What Polis Could Have Said to Trump but Didn't

Governor Jared Polis was wearing a mask while waiting in the White House for his meeting with President Donald Trump.
Governor Jared Polis was wearing a mask while waiting in the White House for his meeting with President Donald Trump.
colorado.gov

Governor Jared Polis's May 13 press conference about COVID-19 took place in Washington, D.C., shortly after he met with President Donald Trump and other high-ranking members of Trump's administration to discuss the ongoing response to the novel coronavirus. And while Polis made it clear that he focused on cooperation with the federal government during his face time with the Commander-in-Chief, he used the media availability to share his views about several issues he'd resisted mentioning earlier, including what he characterized as falsehoods voiced by Trump on the subject of mail-in voting.

In addition, Polis noted that a tweet sent out by the White House during the sit-down greatly exaggerated the amount of personal protective equipment and the like that the Trump administration has provided Colorado by combining federal supplies with those that the state obtained independently.

"Taking credit is something politicians do," Polis said. "They wanted a big number and put a big number up there."

The post-Trump session began with a moment of silence to recognize the more than 1,000 people in Colorado who have died from the virus so far. Polis recalled being asked if he was pleased that COVID-19 has "only" claimed 1,000 lives in the state to date: "I said, 'No, we don't want to have any.' But I'm glad it's not tens of thousands" — a cataclysm he believes was avoided because Colorado acted early to impose a stay-at-home order and encourage social distancing and mask use.

From there, Polis talked about anxiety over flying to the nation's capital on a commercial flight, which was more crowded than he would have liked — but he felt that the invitation to speak to the President on behalf of the state was too important to skip. Upon his arrival at the White House, Polis was tested for the virus, and after he received a negative result, he and other leaders, including Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, met with Trump. Some of the conversation took place with members of the press on hand, with another twenty to thirty minutes of discussion without the media, he estimated.

For his part, Polis concentrated on underscoring the need for the federal government to continue shipping PPE to Colorado for months to come — likely until at least July. He emphasized the importance of medical-grade masks being delivered to senior centers, where staffers are being tested whether they're symptomatic or not. Polis noted that Birx had said she felt such tests should be conducted weekly to maximize safety, and praised the state for ramping up contact tracing so that individuals exposed to the virus can be identified and quarantined before passing it to others.

Additionally, Polis stressed that "I wanted to and did push back on this dichotomy of 'you're open' or 'you're closed'" as a state. He dubbed this a "false narrative," since even those places that have lifted the most restrictions are in no way operating precisely as they did in January or February, before efforts to squelch the pandemic were fully instituted. In his view, Americans of every ideological stripe share the desire to get the economy going again in a manner that doesn't endanger the populace and lead to more tragedies.

Once the question-and-answer stage of the press conference got under way, Polis spoke more frankly than in his prepared remarks, but still tried not to attack Trump too vigorously. Rather than charging the president with ignoring science when encouraging states to reopen sooner and more widely than many public-health experts recommend, Polis said that Trump "has some strong advisors, like Dr. Birx and Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, and I'm hopeful he listens to those advisors and heeds their wise words."

More directly, he conceded that "the president and I have had our differences on different policies. But this is not a time to air differences on unrelated policies. This is a time for all Americans to work together because we have a common foe. The foe is COVID-19 and the economic devastation it's caused." Hence, he said, he's been "setting any ideological differences aside to save lives and restore our economy."

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Still, Polis stopped well short of endorsing Trump's views about mail-in voting, which the president has denigrated in tandem with conservatives who believe the process hurts Republicans at the ballot box. "I've heard the president talk about mail-in voting, too," Polis acknowledged. "But we in Colorado have been voting by mail for years. Coloradans take it for granted. Republicans, Democrats, independents: That's how we vote. But I wasn't about to bring a different topic into that meeting, because I'm here to advocate around COVID-19, not to get into a debate with the president when he makes inaccurate statements about the security of mail-in voting."

Polis also defended a tweet earlier today in which he urged entrepreneur Elon Musk, who recently defied local orders by reopening a Tesla facility in California, to consider opening operations in Colorado. He claimed to have only a passing understanding of Musk's issues with California and portrayed his outreach as merely an effort to promote this state.

Toward the end of the news conference, Polis addressed continuing pressure to allow restaurants across Colorado to begin offering on-site dining again. Again, he refused to say precisely when a decision might be made in regard to giving the go-ahead, and emphasized that such a move won't be made unless data that will likely be analyzed around May 25 shows that the approach would be safe.

However, he revealed, "We're working on guidelines, and we expect to have them in circulation next week," adding that, after all, "Nobody should have to stay closed any longer than absolutely necessary."

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