Governor Jared Polis used the phrase "reasonably safe" to describe conditions at just-reopened Colorado restaurants earlier this week, and he deployed this language again during a press conference this afternoon, May 28, even as he suggested that he's not ready to rush out to an eatery for on-premises dining with his loved ones, and may not feel comfortable doing so for weeks.
"We haven't made any decisions about that," Polis said. "We'll see if the first time we go out is in June or July. But I'm sure at some point, we'll look forward to taking the family out to a restaurant with our kids."
Polis began his address by making note of a tragic milestone: More than 100,000 people have now died from the novel coronavirus across the country, according to public-health officials, including 1,100-plus in Colorado for whom COVID-19 was listed as the cause of death, out of 1,400 who had the virus when they passed. He expressed his condolences to all of those who've suffered losses.
At the same time, he stressed that "there continues to be encouraging data and reasons for hope," but admitted that "we don't know if the worst is ahead of us or behind us." In the meantime, he said, Americans in general and Coloradans in particular can do their part to prevent a worst-case scenario by wearing masks in public, following social distancing recommendations and staying at home as much as possible.
To highlight the importance of the latter for older Coloradans and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk, Polis spoke remotely with his mother, Susan Polis Schutz, who celebrated her 76th birthday last week.
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Susan noted that she and her husband, Stephen Schutz, have not left home since March 1, and she spoke about the importance of continuing to self-isolate for at least the next month and possibly longer. "Obviously, we don't want to get sick, and we don't want to get anybody else sick," she said. "Isolating has been very annoying, but it also has its good points," such as being awakened by her grandson playing the piano and singing her a song and reading to her granddaughter each evening. She acknowledged, "We don't have the sadness that a lot of other people have in isolating. We're very fortunate" — and told her son that he was doing a good job and "saving lives."
After bidding his mother farewell, Polis pointed out that by remaining in their homes for another month or two, older Coloradans were helping hospitals maintain open beds for people with different needs rather than contributing to the facilities being overwhelmed with elderly residents fighting for their lives.
In other announcements, Polis revealed that the state's care-facility task force has completed 747 infection-control surveys, with 100 percent of nursing homes in Colorado participating, and praised an extension of service for the National Guard. (Members are expected to be on duty through mid-August, and will presumably qualify for education and retirement benefits that might have eluded them had the renewal not been approved.) He also read a proclamation of praise for Johnny B. Good's Diner in Steamboat Springs, which he described as an example of community service and innovation during this challenging period.
The first question that Polis tackled from the general public was an aggressive one: The writer intimated that the "fascist governor" wanted more COVID-19 testing to justify a decision "to shut everything down again." But Polis scoffed at this interpretation, saying that more testing will allow for the isolation of infected individuals rather than entire communities or the state as a whole. Next, he addressed the assertion that information about daily infections and deaths isn't being widely shared by pointing critics to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's extensive COVID-19 resources, and promised that he would look into expanding online options for seniors, who've already been able to renew their drivers' licenses without making in-person visits to DMV offices.
Many of the questions posed to Polis by journalists pertained to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado claiming that the state isn't doing enough to protect medically vulnerable inmates from contracting COVID-19. He argued that officials have put protocols in place that take the safety of such individuals into account, even as he defended his choice not to renew an executive order that might have led to the early release of more prisoners. As he did after one such inmate, Cornelius Haney, was arrested for murder, Polis promised that he would not use the pandemic as an excuse to put dangerous criminals back on the streets.
An equal amount of time was devoted to answering questions about restaurants. Polis said claims from restaurant owners that they won't be able to remain profitable if they're limited to the current restriction of 50 percent capacity were premature, given that many customers are reticent about in-person dining. "I haven't had anyone coming to me saying, 'We're full at 50 percent and we need 75 percent,'" he maintained. "It's more like, 'We have 10 or 20 percent, and we can't get by with only a quarter of our regular customers.'"
Polis thinks that this situation may improve as restaurants offer more outdoor-service options, which he described as being safer than eating inside...although that is "reasonably safe," he said. "People make their own decisions."
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His family has done just that regarding his daughter's attendance at an art camp for a couple of weeks in June — something made possible by a just-issued public-health order.
While Polis pointed out that he's supported the restaurant industry by ordering takeout, "We haven't been to a restaurant yet," he said. "I've been too busy to think about that.
"I think there are some Coloradans who are ready to go out physically and go to a restaurant, and others aren't," he continued. "I'm grateful my parents are staying home, and other Coloradans just want to make sure we have the best potential security measures in place" around social distancing and masks at eateries.
He'll be able to judge that for himself down the line — but probably not for a while.