COVID-19 Update: Polis Calls for Keeping the Faith as Deaths Hit 190

Governor Jared Polis during a recent interview.
Governor Jared Polis during a recent interview. CBS4 via YouTube
During an April 8 press conference at the Governor's Residence at Boettcher Mansion, Governor Jared Polis juxtaposed grim statistics about nearly 200 deaths caused by the novel coronavirus with encouragement for people of faith, and their secular peers, to celebrate the season in ways that will keep them safe.

Polis made no mention of churches that continue to hold in-person gatherings, as is allowed under his stay-at-home order only if proper social distancing and hygienic measures are strictly maintained. (William Ingram, pastor of Denver's Messiah Baptist Church, recently said that the only reason he'll cancel services is if the Rapture takes place.) Instead, Polis saved his words of praise for religious organizations that are handling matters differently.

As he's done regularly during his updates, Polis shared current statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about the toll that COVID-19 is taking, and juxtaposing them with figures released at 4 p.m. April 7 is both instructive and chilling. The April 7 figures listed 1,079 hospitalizations and 179 deaths. Less than a day later, Polis said, hospitalizations had grown to 1,154 and eleven more people had died, bringing the total to 190.

This grim data was to be expected, Polis maintained, because it represented infections that started days or weeks ago — and he conceded that "we are still expecting significant, serious loss in the days and weeks ahead." However, he added, "we took action to extend the need to stay at home to a date, April 26, that we have confidence in. Reaching that date really depends on people staying at home, and we can hit that date. If people are not staying at home and are mixing, that date may have to go longer. But at this point we feel we can achieve that date — that you can achieve that date — by staying at home and wearing a mask if you really have to go out."

From there, Polis shifted into the talk's major theme: holidays such as Christian Easter, April 12; Jewish Passover, which gets under way at sunset on April 8; and Muslim Ramadan, still a couple of weeks in the future, as well as the Spring Equinox and other festivities marked by those of secular or humanist ideologies. He encouraged those following any of these traditions to pay heed to the stay-at-home orders and exercise their beliefs remotely, either by taking part in online ceremonies or simply counting blessings with family members.

Taking this tack may be difficult for those who've lost a job, folks not sure whether they'll be able to pay their rent, business owners whose stores are currently closed, barbers not allowed to cut hair because of salon shutdowns, and even doctors and nurses who specialize in the sort of elective surgery that's been temporarily postponed, Polis acknowledged. But he stressed that even in these tough times, we still have things for which we should feel grateful, including living in Colorado.

Changes for the governor's family are in the offing, too. Polis pointed out that as the first member of the Jewish faith to hold the state's highest office, he hosted a Passover celebration at the mansion last year attended by approximately 150 people. That won't be happening in 2020, and neither will an Easter egg hunt for the children of military members. Instead, he and his family will host a dinner in which one iPad will screen images of his parents and another will feature other family members — and the Easter egg hunt will involve additional members of his immediate family.

Next, Polis complimented houses of worship that are finding innovative ways to bring people together at this time of year — not just live streams, but also drive-up services during which the assorted rituals can be amplified so that people can hear from their car. The latter can be arranged in conjunction with public-health authorities in particular counties, he emphasized.

Echoing these themes was a guest speaker: Reverend Amanda Henderson, an ordained Christian minister and the chair of the governor's clergy council. "The most faithful thing we can do right now is to stay home," she said. "The way we can show love and passion and commitment, the way we can love our neighbors, is to be sure we stop the spread of COVID-19. We know we can practice our faith and experience connection to God wherever we are."

After her words, Polis returned to the podium to thank researchers at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Denver's Anschutz Medical Campus, as well as donors to the website and nearly 10,000 people who've offered to volunteer in whatever way they can. He also underscored a point made in the Westword post "COVID-19 and How It's Increased Danger for Colorado's Abused Kids," stressing that victims of domestic violence, including adults and children, are under no obligation under the stay-at-home order to remain in their domicile along with the person harming them. He encouraged such victims to seek help from social agencies or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 800-799-7233.

In conclusion, Polis said, "We all need to step up and be there for one another in this trying time — and that's what gives me the faith we're going to pull through this in Colorado: our great Colorado spirit."
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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