During a September 11 press conference about COVID-19, wildfires and other important developments in Colorado, Governor Jared Polis confirmed that the statewide mask order, which had been set to expire over the weekend, will be extended for at least thirty more days.
Moreover, Polis implied that the mandate won't be dropped entirely until the state can find a way for businesses such as clubs to open again without causing the number of novel coronavirus cases to spike.
"I would say the priorities are getting the nightlife back — getting the current 11 o'clock last call [for alcohol service] to midnight or 2 a.m.," Polis said. "That's more important to people and more important economically. If we're able to do that successfully — and that's really the last thing not happening, although I'd love to increase capacity — ending masks would probably be the next step."
The press conference was held at Morgan Community College in Fort Morgan, on Colorado's eastern plains, and the governor and his fellow speakers — Betsy Markey, executive director at the Office of Economic Development and International Trade; Rick Garcia, executive director at the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); and Angie Paccione, executive director at the Colorado Department of Higher Education — focused many of their remarks on aiding residents of this area. Their topics included grants for small businesses, ranchers, farmers, individuals unable to pay their rent, landlords struggling to cover their mortgages because of rent-payment shortfalls, and more. The repeated emphasis was that state officials and departments want to do as much as they can to support the economy in rural parts of the state, and they urged folks to apply for grants or simply reach out when facing food or housing insecurity or encountering other problems worsened by the pandemic.
On the COVID-19 front, Polis noted that 307 new cases had been reported today, September 11, and while that number is on the high side for totals of late, he stressed that the so-called R-naught value — the number of others each person with the virus is infecting — remains close to one. Holding at this level is important, because should the figure rise, hospital capacity could become a problem. The positivity number of tests for the virus has also increased, edging over 3 percent per 100,000 people after dipping well below that level. But Polis suggested the likely reason was that fewer tests had been conducted in recent days owing to the Labor Day holiday. More testing lowers the positivity rate and allows medical professionals to catch cases early, before symptoms become severe and hospitalization is required.
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On the topic of wildfires raging across the state, including the Cameron Peak fire in northern Colorado, which has now consumed 102,595 acres and is just 4 percent contained, Polis expressed his gratitude for the cold, wet weather of the past few days, but emphasized that this assist from Mother Nature hasn't extinguished the blazes or made the job of firefighters working to squelch them any easier.
The academic setting for the day's event inspired discussion of restarting in-person instruction at colleges, and Polis praised institutions of higher learning for their hard work in keeping COVID-19 cases contained so that quarantining that's been required at places such as the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University is limited and doesn't spread to the larger community. The Department of Higher Education's Paccione added that many of the rising infections in Boulder County and other college towns have been linked to large, off-campus parties. "Please, let's get rid of those," she said.
During a question-and-answer session, Polis continued to cheerlead for the potential return of fall sports such as football under the auspices of the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), whose board voted against such a move earlier this week. There's "still a window" for making that happen, he said, even suggesting that state funds might be supplied to help districts achieve this goal — though what's most important to him is ensuring that the sport is played at some point, whether in the fall or spring.
Regarding facial coverings, Polis conceded, "We all are frustrated with masks. I can't wait for two things: the fire bans to be over and the mask requirement to be over," adding that many people "will be happy to have little bonfires" to burn their masks as soon as they can. But face coverings are working to keep Colorado's novel coronavirus data at a reasonably safe level, he said: "Mask-wearing is a key part in continuing the forward progress, and it will be with us for the next thirty days."