During a May 8 press update on Colorado's fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis offered hints about when restaurants in the state may reopen — perhaps as early as Memorial Day. He also pushed back on calls to use his powers to free inmates who might be particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus as more detention centers around the state are designated as outbreaks.
"If anyone is looking at the coronavirus as an excuse to let dangerous criminals out, they have the wrong governor," Polis said. "We would never contemplate such a thing."
Polis's appearance was virtual, with members of the media able to participate remotely but not in person. Meanwhile, there are indications that some media outlets may be suffering from press conference fatigue: For the first time since the governor began staging such sessions, 9News chose not to broadcast his comments live, opting instead to air an episode of Daily Blast Live.
After offering an update about the latest COVID-19 figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (18,801 positive cases, 961 deaths), Polis took several minutes to once again tout the importance of wearing masks in public. He referred to the practice as "the most important thing you can do for your safety" as well as that of others nearby. "If wearing a mask is the price we have to pay to have larger gatherings," including church services, he suggested, "I think that's a price most of us would more than willingly pay."
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Polis also spotlighted a couple of new projects developed by the state, including "Can Do Colorado," an initiative offering creative ideas about how businesses can reopen in ways that are less risky for employees and customers alike, and employment sites such as ConnectToCareJobs.com. Among places hiring, he noted, are senior-care centers, which need to have backup employees should regular staffers be sidelined because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or the need to be quarantined.
The question-and-answer portion of the program included an inquiry about Denver Public Schools sending a letter to parents suggesting that the 2020-2021 school year will likely include a blend of remote learning and in-person instruction. In response, Polis said, "That doesn't mean every parent or child will want their kid in that classroom" — a likelihood that will present more challenges to already overburdened educators. But he promised that the state will offer support to districts about reconfiguring schedules and spacing desks so that students will be as safe as possible.
In addition, Polis pledged to work with JBS, a meat plant in Greeley that was the setting for one of Colorado's largest COVID-19 outbreaks (seven workers have died to date), to provide additional tests for workers there should the firm make such a request. He also emphasized that despite an order from the administration of President Donald Trump for such facilities to remain open, Colorado government agencies retain the ability to close down JBS again if another rash of cases is identified.
Among other topics touched upon were testing of workers and residents at nursing homes (Polis said these efforts remain a priority and are ramping up further), his relationship with the federal government (he passed along mild compliments rather than casting shade), the potential resumption of camping at state parks (he's confident it will be available again "soon"), and an application by El Paso County to hold in-person graduation ceremonies using the safety model established for a recent event at the Air Force Academy (he was complimentary about the concept).
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In regard to the dates by which restaurants may be able to reopen, Polis suggested that a rumored date of June 14 was actually later than his personal projections. An analysis of data for the first weeks since the end of the stay-at-home order will likely take place in the May 22-23 range. If signs are positive, he thinks eateries would have enough time after that to unlock their doors by Memorial Day.
The most passionate exchange, however, was spurred by references to an open letter sent to Polis today by the ACLU of Colorado, in which the organization called on him to grant clemency to elderly or medically compromised inmates who are particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Rather than confirming that he was considering sentence commutation, Polis talked about how "any congregate living facility" was susceptible to an outbreak, be it a college dormitory or a prison. In the case of the latter, he stressed that authorities have developed procedures to deal with positive diagnoses or symptomatic inmates and are acting quickly to isolate them in ways that keep the rest of those incarcerated as protected from infection as possible.
But Polis also made it clear that any advocates hoping to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to push through an agenda that could put Coloradans at risk will be sorely disappointed.
As for Denver's May 9 transition to rules similar to his own safer-at-home model, Polis stated that he was eager for the city's residents to move forward while still wearing masks and engaging in social distancing — he hopes.