"This is not the Summer of Party."
With these words, using what he subsequently described as his "dad voice" during a July 9 press conference to update the citizenry about the state's battle against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis warned young Coloradans that if they take part in large gatherings, they could cause case counts, hospitalizations and deaths associated with the novel coronavirus to spike, as they have in other places around the country.
"We need to step up and do better than we're doing," Polis said. "We're doing better than many other states, and we've seen major shifts in behavior from January and February. But the bad news is, we've had some slippage. Rates are going up here; we've had our second day with over 400 new cases. What we need is an adjustment in how we're living."
After announcing that he will soon shift back to twice-weekly updates about the disease response after cutting back to just one a week, Polis reinforced his frequent messaging about the importance of wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing to help avoid a flood of new COVID-19 infections. He also expressed hope that his decision to close bars and nightclubs across Colorado a short time after allowing their limited reopening would reduce the spread of the virus, although he admitted that it would likely be another week or two before data could offer confirmation.
In the meantime, Polis praised municipalities that have passed mandatory mask ordinances. By his estimation, mask usage in Colorado is presently around the 70 percent mark, "but it ain't enough. We need to get to 85, 90 percent. Masks are very effective to protect yourself and prevent other people from spreading the virus." He also touted the economic impact of facial coverings, as underscored by a new Goldman Sachs study estimating that universal mask wearing could be worth $1 trillion in positive economic impact.
Right now, however, Colorado's COVID-19 curve is heading in the wrong direction, Polis acknowledged. "In eleven of the past fourteen days, we've seen an upward trend," he revealed. "We need to do better."
That means fewer gatherings, especially for young people. Polis observed that teens and twenty-somethings "like to party. They like to use alcohol or even legal marijuana. There might be people under drinking age who like to do that, too, but we're not focused on that now. Young people in our state can still have safe fun. You can have three or four friends over and have a drinking game. You can go camping. You can go to a park with four friends. But the question of whether we're having these large parties without social distancing is going to determine the future of our state."
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He added that "the message we have to get through now is that young people have to understand that if we want things to be normal, if we want to be able to out out and enjoy life and go to a park or go to the zoo or have a job or keep restaurants open, you have to forego parties this summer and perhaps into the fall.... Whatever fun you're having, I don't care. Whether it's legal or illegal fun. We're not even talking about that. I'm talking about the health side. I'm not telling you don't drink other than the way I would normally tell you not to drink underage. What I'm telling you is that you should get together with four friends, not a party of eighty people."
Polis pointed out that over the Fourth of July holiday, Colorado was visited by an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people from Arizona and Texas, which have rapidly climbing viral counts. Such folks could well spread COVID-19 here if they didn't wear masks, and he applauded the notion of citing them for disobeying local laws. "They have to learn that Colorado is serious about this," he said.
As more evidence of that, Polis introduced Dr. Jon Samet from the Colorado School of Public Health to discuss a new COVID-19 modeling website that will allow web surfers to see what effect mask-wearing and social distancing will have on the virus's progress, then took on questions from the assembled press corps. During the exchanges, he didn't rule out the possibility of a statewide mask-wearing order but suggested that buy-in from localities was more important than "a piece of paper" from him. He also predicted that schools "will be back in a more or less normal fashion in the fall," but that educators and parents alike should brace themselves for potential outbreaks that could temporarily necessitate all-remote learning through the disease's incubation period in such instances.
Toward the end of the chat, Polis said the prospect of fans at future Colorado Rockies games wasn't beyond the realm of possibility, but suggested the issue was premature. At the same time, though, he reiterated that experts had yet to figure out a way to open bars and nightclubs safely during a pandemic. For that reason, he offered no timetable for their return to operation.