COVID-19: Polis Not Yet Ready to Ban Tourists From Spiking States

Colorado Governor Jared Polis at a recent bill-signing.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis at a recent bill-signing.
Officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have announced that they will start imposing a fourteen-day quarantine on visitors from Florida, Texas and other states with spiking COVID-19 rates. But during a June 24 press conference about Colorado's fight against the novel coronavirus, Governor Jared Polis rejected the idea of following this lead.

"We're not seeing tourists return to our state in the numbers we're accustomed to," Polis acknowledged, "and obviously, some of these proposals, like locking people in quarantine for fourteen days, will lead to even less, or to people coming illegally without notifying anybody." For that reason, he explained, "we want to partner with the lodging industry to implement best practices and make sure we don't have additional setbacks that scare tourists off."

While he isn't ready to ban certain tourists, Polis definitely wants to discourage large gatherings on the Fourth of July, which is still ten days in the future. He urged people to get together with family members or small groups rather than congregate in the hundreds at gatherings such as the Memorial Day bashes in Boulder that are being blamed for a spike in positive cases in Boulder County.

But that's not the only place where there have been concerning increases; Polis also cited the San Luis Valley, El Paso County, San Miguel County and Eagle County. Should outbreaks there spread to the state as a whole, he warned, "all our gains can be reversed very quickly." To that end, he advised all Coloradans to treat people they encounter as if they have COVID-19 — since some of them probably do, whether they know it or not. Wearing masks, staying six feet away from others, frequent hand-washing and more are the best defense against a potential infection, he repeated.

Overall, Colorado's data remains positive, Polis said, noting that fewer than one person is now being infected by each individual who tests positive for COVID-19. But if this ratio inches above the less-than-one-to-one level, the case counts will rise and Colorado could wind up in the same uncomfortable position as several neighboring states, including Arizona — a prospect underscored during supportive commentary from state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

Other encouraging news: The average age of people contracting COVID-19 in Colorado is down, meaning that older residents are doing a good job of watching out for themselves. But as Polis pointed out, that means more young people are becoming infected, and even though their odds of a severe reaction are much lower than for individuals in their seventies or eighties, one in fifteen to twenty young adults, on average, requires hospitalization — and can pass the disease to elders, whose odds of ending up in an intensive-care unit are more like one in two or one in three.

Polis screened a video encouraging travelers to wear masks, social-distance, stay in if they're sick and get tested if they begin to show symptoms. He also praised hoteliers in Eagle County, who are now providing all visitors with a letter reinforcing these notions. The idea, he said, is to let people from places where facial coverings are rare know that Colorado is different, and that they have a responsibility to follow the rules and culture here.

After announcing new rules that will allow loved ones of residents in senior care facilities and similar places to visit them outdoors (details for indoor visits are still in the works), Polis took questions from journalists — and tourism remained a hot topic. Preventing tourists from other states from coming here is impractical in part because "Colorado is a landlocked state, and tens and hundreds of thousands of folks drive or fly into the state with no record of who they are or how they got here," he said.

For this reason, Polis sees educational efforts as more viable than replicating the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tactics — at least for now.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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