Coronavirus

COVID-19: Polis Defends Calling Non-Mask Wearers "Selfish Bastards"

Governor Jared Polis beseeching Coloradans to "wear your damn mask" during a July 9 press conference.
Governor Jared Polis beseeching Coloradans to "wear your damn mask" during a July 9 press conference. coiorado.gov
During a July 14 press conference to update Coloradans about the ongoing fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis defended his characterization of people who don't wear masks in public as "selfish bastards" in a recent Facebook post.

Polis noted that he's been pushing out messages regarding the importance of facial coverings "in many different ways through social media — humorous ways, strong ways, scientific-data ways, pushing out studies — because people make their decisions in different ways."

At the outset of his talk, Polis noted that he's just signed a number of important legislative measures related to the fallout from the novel coronavirus, dealing with subjects such as relief funds, rent, mortgage and utility bill assistance, small-business support, and paid sick leave for every Coloradan, including those who don't receive this benefit through their employers because they're classified as independent contractors. "Nobody who has any symptoms should go to work," he emphasized. "It could be a cold, but it could also be COVID-19."

Next, Polis divulged the latest virus data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: 37,686 positive cases, including 444 new diagnoses today, in addition to 1,589 deaths in which COVID-19 was the direct cause out of 1,700 in which the disease was present. Moreover, cases have risen in twelve of the last fourteen days, with hospitalizations mirroring this scenario for eleven days during the past two weeks. Right now, 252 patients are in either intensive care or non-ICU settings with the infection.


"Cases are growing slowly but consistently, and that's the wrong trend," Polis said. "We want them decreasing slowly but consistently." What Coloradans are doing "is close, but not quite good enough," he explained — and he suggested that to flatten the curve, residents need to focus even harder on wearing masks in public, reducing their number of social interactions, remaining six feet from others and washing hands even more frequently.

If such actions aren't taken, he continued, Colorado could wind up in the same situation as Texas, which "had a level period, then a period of exponential growth in early June that has not let up. That drastic change would happen here in just a matter of a couple of weeks if we let up. That shows how quickly everything can change the moment we let down our guard." This past Sunday, he pointed out, the Houston Chronicle's obituary section was 43 pages long — "and we don't want the Denver Post or the Colorado Springs Gazette to run, on any given weekend, a 43-page obituary section just to catch up with all of those who died during the week."

The key to Colorado's success against COVID-19 is to get the "simple things" right, he suggested — and that's why he's tried so many different approaches on Facebook and elsewhere to encourage the use of masks. With some, he appealed to folks' patriotism. With others, he shined a spotlight on new studies that show facial coverings not only diminish the possibility of asymptomatic individuals spreading the virus, but also offer more protection for the wearer than was thought a month or two ago.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session with journalists, Polis declined to cite specific benchmarks that would trigger a rollback of reopening protocols, promised that the state is doing everything it can to speed up the delivery of its own COVID-19 test results amid slowdowns at national firms related to demand in spiking states, estimated that guidelines for school reopening from the Colorado Department of Education would be made public within days, and dismissed as impractical the idea of making visitors from other states quarantine before entering Colorado. He also held steady on his current choice to not issue a statewide mask-usage mandate — though he conceded that this option remains on the table. Additionally, he expressed a level of understanding in regard to people who see mask orders as infringing on their freedom.


"It's a tough one to wrestle with," he acknowledged. "Like most Coloradans, I believe in bodily autonomy. I believe people should make their own choices" — which is why he recently decried reports that China is forcing some members of minority populations to have abortions against their will. But, he said, "the reason this issue is more complex is not so much about just your rights. It's also about protecting the right to live of those impacted by your decisions," meaning people who might catch the virus and die because someone chose to leave his or her nose and mouth uncovered.

As a result, Polis displayed no remorse regarding that "selfish bastards" post. After all, he suggested, some people respond best to "blunt statements."
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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