During most of his press conferences since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Jared Polis has shied away from vigorously bashing President Donald Trump, choosing instead to offer subtler criticism of the current administration's response to the virus and apparent lack of a national strategy to combat it. But his virtual session on October 6 was different. This time around, Polis ripped Trump, who has shrugged off having the virus on Twitter and taken part in media events that have disturbed public health experts, accusing him of irresponsibility that could lead to greater problems in Colorado should too many residents follow his example.
"It's challenging to watch how the White House is handling this on a personal level," Polis maintained. "Like a lot of things, the President is taking this in a wrong and divisive direction with regard to his counsel and what he's advising people to do."
As for Trump encouraging individuals not to be afraid of the novel coronavirus, Polis continued, "you've heard me say very similar things. Of course it's not time for fear. But that doesn't mean you throw your mask off, have large groups and let people get sick and die. ... I think the danger of the president's message is that he seems to be saying it's not a time for fear, it's a time for recklessness. That's in many ways what he models with his personal behavior."
According to Polis, this state has now registered 74,191 positive cases of COVID-19. But what he's most worried about is "the trend in Colorado," especially in regard to hospitalizations. "We have 246 people hospitalized, and what's alarming is that it's increased substantially, from about 170 to 246 over a two-week period. If we were to continue that for another two weeks, and then another two weeks, we would be back in the situation where we might not be able to guarantee the best quality of care — and we know how important that is. We've seen that with the president."
Polis characterized "the news from Washington, from the White House" as "a reminder that none of us, even the President of the United States, is immune from this virus." But he also suggested that Trump shows little concern regarding the possibility of others contracting the ailment, particularly at schools. "The president wanted kids back in school, but rather than have a plan to do it safely, the president tries to bully people without actually helping the states or the school districts to return with things like the personal protective equipment they need, the testing they need, or investing in better ventilation systems," he explained.
Polis introduced Rachel Herlihy, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who talked about why the state's fight against COVID-19 over the next couple of weeks will be crucial. She shared data showing that the number of positive results for people between 18 and 25 has declined since spikes in September, but the figures for other demographics haven't seen such dips. Without declines, the state could see worrisome increases in the fall, particularly around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when Herlihy expects social distancing to decrease as a result of more family gatherings. If that happens, the threat of Colorado's hospital system being overwhelmed by virus patients could re-emerge.
What's needed now, both Herlihy and Polis emphasized, is greater compliance with safety recommendations such as mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding large groups, frequent hand-washing and the like. That way, the virus will be at a lower level going into the holidays, providing more room for error.
During subsequent question-and-answer exchanges, Polis addressed an ongoing conference in Woodland Park staged by Andrew Wommack Ministries, which chafes at attendance restrictions aimed at religious organizations despite an earlier get-together having spawned a COVID-19 outbreak; its lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order against state restrictions has been denied. "The virus doesn't care whether you're singing hymns or watching a football game or having a barbecue," he said. "If you have 50, 100, 200 people without masks, you're risking a super-spreader event that will cost lives and set our entire state back."
Another inquiry again raised the topic of Trump, and Polis didn't hold back. Noting that "we don't all have the ability to have the same quality of care the president has when he gets ill," he argued that Trump "shoots from the gut. Not being scared or fearful is the right concept, but he takes it in the wrong direction. The messaging should be to us to be cautious and careful and get on with our lives."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.