COVID-19 Update: Polis Tries New Pitch to Get Kids to Wear Masks

Governor Jared Polis promoted a mask contest for children during his April 13 press conference.
Governor Jared Polis promoted a mask contest for children during his April 13 press conference. Photo by Michael Roberts
There's definitely a generation gap when it comes to wearing masks recommended to fight the spread of COVID-19, with younger people far less interested in donning face coverings than older residents have been. Governor Jared Polis acknowledged this during his April 13 press conference at the Governor's Residence at Boettcher Mansion, as he promoted a new design contest intended to inspire more kids to make masks a part of their apparel...without freaking them out.

Polis began his remarks by noting that state agencies will soon be able to provide more detailed demographic information about those who've contracted the novel coronavirus, including specifics related to ethnicity — the sort of statistics Denver recently made available that revealed neighborhood infection rates and racial inequities. The governor noted that information from hospitals about how long surviving patients are receiving medical care before their release will also be shared, as soon as the federal government agrees to relax current rules limiting the dissemination of such data.

This time around, Polis didn't offer a full mid-day update of information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But he did reveal that the state's fatality numbers had exceeded 300; as of 4 p.m. April 12, the total stood at 290.

Polis also spoke about the outbreak at the Greeley beef plant operated by JBS USA; two people who worked there have succumbed to coronavirus. In recent days, the company shared plans to test all 6,000 employees of the facility, but Polis confirmed that the process will not be nearly as speedy as originally thought.

The JBS situation is receiving national attention; Polis said it was mentioned during multiple phone calls over the weekend with Vice President Mike Pence, who's heading up the federal response to COVID-19 on behalf of the Trump administration. According to Polis, everyone agrees that the goal is to get the operation up and running as soon as safely possible in order to minimize any disruption to the food supply. Yet he also noted that JBS will be closing the plant "for a period of time" while working with Weld County and state officials to move forward with employee testing and the quarantining of anyone who may have come into contact with virus carriers. The Colorado National Guard will be lending logistical support to this effort, he added, and the state labor department will provide support to workers during any periods of unemployment.

From there, Polis rolled into the day's main subject: the Colorado Face Mask Design Challenge, which urges all Coloradans, young and old, to use their creativity on the masks they're encouraged to wear.

Although Polis noted that "more masks are being worn in public," he admitted that "this cultural shift isn't easy" and that "some kids might find it scary, while others might react in different ways. So we want to create a conversation around art and creativity," in which families can design masks together.

As for designs, he suggested that kids "think about things like what or who you would like your friends to see. Imagine yourself as a superhero or a character from a TV show, a book or a movie — or just draw a silly face or an emoji."

Providing more details was Margaret Hunt, executive director of Colorado Creative Industries, the state's arts advocate, who described an online mask template and encouraged kids to use bright colors, then upload photos to the site. The best efforts could be mass-produced by Colorado companies and distributed for free to encourage greater use of the masks among young people, she said.

After Hunt completed her remarks, the podium was disinfected, just as it had been when the governor turned it over to Hunt — a new procedure for the press conferences. Polis returned to suggest that the mask contest was in the spirit of "fun and optimistic" efforts being shared online by Coloradans, maintaining that an upbeat attitude is justified to some degree by a leveling off of hospital admissions and the like.

At the same time, Polis made it clear that further steps are necessary to arrest the virus's spread and get back to what he called "limited social activity" and the introduction of more economic activity. He also mentioned a letter that he had just sent to hotel and motel operators, encouraging them to provide spaces for people experiencing homelessness or other vulnerable individuals as a way of further limiting the virus's spread.

He concluded his main remarks by offering thanks for the chilly storm system currently sitting on the state. On April 11, he'd received "reports about people going out a bit more than we would like," he said, "so we're blessed by having very cold, rainy, snowy weather now, so people will be more willing to stay in."

In this context, he offered a by-now familiar refrain: "This is not a vacation. This is not a holiday. This is a pandemic."
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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