Earlier this week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis predicted that the state could hand over decisions about the COVID-19 response to local government agencies and officials as soon as April 16. As a result, some jurisdictions may immediately end mask mandates, capacity limits and other safety procedures that have been required for much of the past year.
But during an April 1 press conference, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the Mile High City won't immediately ditch such policies, particularly given statistics related to the novel coronavirus that remain worrisome. And while rules about mask use outdoors might be eased within weeks, that won't be the case when there's a roof overhead.
"The mask order will be in place at least through early May in indoor settings," Hancock said. After that, he added, officials will evaluate regulations about "where and when masks will be required" on "a month-by-month basis" — and the same goes for capacity limits in assorted venues and more.
Hancock began his remarks with what he described as "really good news" — the passage of President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan and his introduction of an infrastructure bill that would pour even more money into projects in Denver and beyond. He said the latter proposal incorporates many of the suggestions that Denver leaders have been making for years, and he'd passed along that message during a call between mayors of major metropolitan areas and the White House earlier today.
At that point, Hancock's talk toughened. Despite what he characterized as "great forward momentum," he stressed that "we simply cannot ease up yet. We can just as easily find ourselves with another surge if we starting thinking this virus is under control and drop our guard." Not only have warning signs started flashing nationally, he noted, but "in Colorado, cases have been ticking up. At best, we've plateaued at a stubbornly high rate." Moreover, while the current positivity rate for COVID-19 remains under the 5 percent threshold recommended by health experts, Denver's has been inching closer and closer to that mark.
For these reasons, Hancock said that Denver residents and visitors "should expect that certain limits," including the mask order and some capacity restrictions, "will stay in place" after they've been dropped in some other parts of the state.
The reasons for these edicts were underscored by Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald. After displaying graphics showing the virus starting to rise in the northeastern and northwestern sections of the country, he emphasized, "We are not out of this. We do not want the virus to start spiking again in Colorado and Denver." After all, although many parts of the state are currently at Level Green or Level Blue on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard, Denver remains at Level Yellow, and "it's just hovering around," McDonald confirmed. "We have plateaued there. It's not going down like it was. It's leveled off. We're just barely keeping pace with the number of vaccinations and the number of cases we're seeing with variants of the initial virus."
Those variants make it even more important for everyone to get the vaccine right away, McDonald continued. If too many decide to skip the shots, he cautioned, the virus could mutate so much that the current medication might be ineffective against it, thereby requiring the development of new vaccines and, potentially, another round of inoculations for the entire population.
With that in mind, McDonald celebrated today's opening of a mass vaccination site at Ball Arena, formerly the Pepsi Center, and six other centers located in underserved portions of the community. Rapidly increasing the number of Denver residents who have been vaccinated is "the quickest way to get through the pandemic," he allowed.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, Hancock again talked up Biden's infrastructure package, especially with regard to how it might be able to help boost Denver International Airport. But he also said that when Denver takes control of local COVID-19 management from the state, "we're still going to let data and science guide us."
That's a line Polis has delivered for months — though not as much lately.
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