COVID-19: Polis on Why Colorado's Keeping PPE, Test Orders Secret

Governor Jared Polis during an appearance on MTP Daily.
Governor Jared Polis during an appearance on MTP Daily. MSNBC via YouTube
In a May 1 update about the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado Governor Jared Polis noted an important benchmark in his Safer at Home program, while also acknowledging that the state is keeping some orders of test kits and personal protective equipment secret until the items actually arrive, out of concern that they'll be snagged by the federal government or other states that want them, too.

According to Polis, local officials don't fear that the feds will approve a seizure effort once the kits and PPEs are physically in the state's possession. Instead, "we're worried about them cutting them off in the supply chain or Customs. We don't want to increase the risk to Coloradans by having these things taken out from under them."

The format of Polis's May 1 press conference was different from previous iterations over the past few weeks. This time around, he was outside, with tree branches in the background, and was seen from an angle that suggested the deployment of a selfie stick. There were a few glitches and freeze-frames, but for the most part, the technology held up for the length of his remarks, which got under way precisely as scheduled, at 1 p.m. — another first.

After expressing condolences to the families and loved ones of those who've died from the novel coronavirus (the updated casualty count stands at 777), Polis lauded "another milestone in our Safer at Home order" — retail businesses and personal services such as salons and dog groomers "can open their doors as long as they follow clear and specific social distancing and hygiene rules." He acknowledged that's not yet the case in Denver, whose stay-at-home order was extended until at least May 8, but officials in many other parts of the state are moving forward.

The next step in Safer at Home begins on Monday, May 4, when offices can reopen with up to 50 percent of their workforce physically on hand, Polis pointed out — though he also encouraged operations to try keeping that number as low as possible by way of continued telecommuting and the like.

Polis also touched on a series of new orders announced late on April 30, including a mandate to reduce foreclosures. He pledged that there would be no evictions in May, just as there were none in April, with the exception of actions dealing with immediate public-health dangers or ones that were in the pipeline prior to the current outbreak. When asked during a subsequent question-and-answer segment about renters able to pay who aren't doing so because they know an eviction is off the table, he suggested that they'll have to pony up down the line by way of amortization.

At that point, Polis ticked through a number of quick topics, noting the hiring of eighty new agents and seventy temporary workers to help the state's Department of Labor meet demand related to unemployment filings, and saluted May's designation as both Animal Welfare Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. On the latter subject, he encouraged anyone feeling stressed because of the current situation to reach out to Colorado Crisis Services online, phone 844-495-TALK, or text the word "talk" to 38255. He also offered a shout-out to the state's Veterans Community Living Centers for keeping military heroes safe.

Among other things, journalists participating in the session asked about budget cuts and belt-tightening that Polis had approved, including some that reduced funds available for mental health and drug-rehabilitation services. He portrayed this trimming as taking place "around the edges," and suggested that a slip in usage over the past month or so had allowed for cost savings that shouldn't have a major impact on individuals in need.

Likewise, Polis resisted the urge to freak out at quotes from El Paso County implying that officials there were ready to open restaurants before the state had given them permission to do so. In response, he stressed that a process was in place allowing counties to request variations on the rules that fit their conditions. For example, he confirmed that Mesa County, on Colorado's Western Slope, had been given permission to allow on-site dining before other parts of the state. And he implied that a plan was in the works to extend the signature deadline regarding petitions for state ballot measures, similar to one already in place related to candidates.

And then Polis offered a followup to comments he'd previously made to Colorado Public Radio about keeping an order of coronavirus tests quiet to avoid possible confiscation. While he didn't blast the process that made such efforts necessary, he did emphasize that "we don't want to put Colorado at a disadvantage by allowing our own federal government or other states to obtain things Colorado has already purchased."

The quest for equipment and gear is "a global free-for-all," he stated. For that reason, Colorado will announce when it has obtained material such as PPEs and test kits once they arrive. But in his view, "It puts Coloradans at additional risk if we tell people before they get here."
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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.
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