COVID-19: Polis Worries About New Virus Flood from Utah, Arizona

Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a recent Fox31 town hall about COVID-19.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a recent Fox31 town hall about COVID-19. YouTube
During a June 9 press conference updating Coloradans about the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Jared Polis noted rising virus numbers in Utah and Arizona. While he stopped short of advocating that individuals from those neighboring states who are heading this way be given virus checks before gaining admittance, he wants everyone living along state borders to guard against possible spikes.

"So far, we haven't seen the same trend here," Polis acknowledged, "but it just shows how tenuous our progress is."

At the outset of his remarks, Polis shared the latest stats related to the novel coronavirus from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: 28,339 positive cases, 1,292 deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,547 who have died with the infection in their system. He warned that "there are still losses ahead."

Despite this statement, Polis strove to keep things positive, pointing out that hospitalizations have trended downward for eleven of the past fourteen days. Case counts, meanwhile, have dipped during seven of the previous fourteen days — a less upbeat development, but not yet a calamitous sign.

Nonetheless, Polis emphasized the continuing importance of people in vulnerable demographics staying at home as much as possible by way of a virtual conversation with Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera.

"I'm in two risk categories," Primavera said, "because of my age, and I'm a cancer survivor who's been diagnosed four times — so I fall into the population of underlying health issues." But while she characterized having to work from her residence for the past three months as being "really difficult," she made it clear that she's been extremely productive. As the official in the lead of Colorado's relationship with the aerospace and defense industries, she celebrated the naming of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs as the temporary headquarters of the U.S. Space Command before detailing her efforts on behalf of the state's behavioral health task force, an initiative to improve health care in Indian country and policies to boost tele-health options across the state.

After Primavera bid farewell, Polis discussed the ongoing legislative session. He stressed the importance of completing a budget prior to July 1, when the current version expires, thanked lawmakers for their willingness to cut back on programs because of the revenue shortfalls precipitated by the now-expired stay-at-home order, lobbed another shot at the Gallagher Amendment and applauded "the process of taking swift action in response to the hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans that are demonstrating against police abuse and structural racism" in regard to the law enforcement reform bill. This remark was the closest Polis came to discussing the ongoing downtown Denver protests, with the exception of a quick recommendation that demonstrators get tested for COVID-19, even though his press conference began during the televised Houston funeral service for George Floyd.

After some quick attaboys for businesses and health-care organizations doing innovative work to help members of their respective communities, Polis invited questions from journalists. He stopped short of echoing protest organizer Tay Anderson's call to reopen investigations into the police-related deaths of Elijah McClain, Michael Marshall and De'Von Bailey, but spoke generally about his support for independent inquiries into future matters; indicated that Colorado would happily entertain convention business as long as hotels and county health officials work together to make sure such gatherings can be conducted safely; and conceded that in-classroom instruction at schools scheduled to return in the fall may face interruptions at certain sites if outbreaks happen — something for which officials are preparing, he said.

As for the state's readiness to handle a predicted second wave of the virus, he reminded the press that "the first wave isn't over. The minute we let down our guard, we will have a resurgence of cases," as folks in Utah and Arizona are learning.

Polis closely watches "global statistics" about the virus, he said, with a particular focus on "what happens in our own back yard." For instance, "tribal areas in northern New Mexico have been a hot spot for several weeks — and now there's Arizona.... A lot of snowbirds spend part of the year here or there."

But while "we worry about increased incidences in neighboring states," he continued, "we have no plans for checks or validations" of commuting individuals other than encouraging all Colorado businesses that cater to customers from outside the state to offer paperless checkout, ensure that employees wear masks, respect social distancing recommendations and otherwise "use the same kinds of precautions we take to avoid infection from our fellow Coloradans."

A previous version of this post made note of a bump in hospitalizations originally reported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on June 8. The department subsequently retracted these figures, and those currently in place show a decline.
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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