COVID-19: Polis Denies Being Colorado's Virus Overlord

Colorado Governor Jared Polis at a bill-signing ceremony earlier this week.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis at a bill-signing ceremony earlier this week. YouTube
During his June 18 press conference addressing COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis juxtaposed two online comments regarding mask use. One person argued that mask-wearing should be mandatory, while another suggested that Polis has dealt with the pandemic by becoming a heavy-handed virus "overlord" — which the governor denied.

"This is not about anybody trying to control you," Polis said. "I have no stake in trying to control Colorado to wear masks other than that I care about saving lives." He encouraged residents to not don facial coverings because "someone else thinks it's a good idea. Do it because you care about your life and your loved ones and the economy. Do the research yourself."

Much of the material in Polis's opening remarks reinforced familiar messaging about safety beyond masks: maintaining physical distancing of six feet or more whenever possible, reducing social interactions and sticking to small groups rather than joining large gatherings. He also used the current COVID-19 spike among young adults in Boulder who'd partied Memorial Day weekend as a warning about what could happen on a broader scale if best practices are ignored.

Regarding the 108 positive cases confirmed by Boulder authorities between June 11 and June 17, Polis noted that "many of them are students who have jobs, who work in restaurants.... So it's critical we prevent those 108 people from spreading the virus to hundreds or thousands of Boulder residents who are customers or co-workers. That's why employees should be wearing masks — to allow this progress to continue in our state."

As for continuing progress, Polis noted that rules governing reopening at indoor and outdoor venues and residential camps should be finalized either later today or tomorrow, June 19, and will be made public shortly thereafter. He argued that these efforts should move forward despite spikes in other states, because the pending Protect Our Neighbors program will require municipalities to demonstrate that they'll be able to deal with such challenges in site-specific ways that should ward off community-wide spread.

At the same time, though, Polis stressed that Coloradans need to "double down" on safety in the coming weeks and months to keep the state trending in the right direction. Using a baseball metaphor, he said, "When you're up a run and you're maybe in the fifth inning and the other team has the bases loaded, you're worried a little more — you're worried they could break this thing open."

After discussing a new website,, that promotes tele-health options; praising those who've helped reduce risks for seniors at long-term care facilities to which so many casualties have been connected; and celebrating today's U.S. Supreme Court decision that nixed immediate deportation for those in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, Polis read a post from a man named Paul, who wrote, "Thank you for being a kind and benevolent overlord of my safety. Thank you for shaming me.... Long live Governor Overlord Polis. Will you come to my house and watch me eat and tell me if I am doing it correctly?"

Of this remark, as well as an opposing call for mandatory mask usage, Polis noted, "It's important that Coloradans don't view this as anybody's efforts to control what you do. ... This is a choice, and I encourage you to make the informed choice and the right choice. Some people don't find masks comfortable. Some say it takes a little while to get used to it. But I never wore a mask before this whole thing, and now I wear a mask."

If Coloradans as a whole follow suit, Polis said he's hopeful that the state will be able to avoid a situation like the current one in Arizona, where some businesses may have to shut down again because the case numbers are "exploding."

It's too early to know if protests in downtown Denver and other locations, including Boulder, will result in many more positive cases, Polis said; he expects the scenario to be clearer in the next week or so. But when asked about extending the current executive order declaring the pandemic an emergency, he left no doubt that he thinks the description still fits.

At the same time, one announcement made by Polis shows that he's feeling good about Colorado's current standing: He will only be holding one press conference per week about COVID-19 going forward — unless the situation deteriorates, that is.
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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