During recent press appearances, Governor Jared Polis has repeatedly balanced upbeat assessments about COVID-19 vaccinations with warnings that if Coloradans let down their guard too soon, the state could suffer another wave of infections that would cost the state dearly in both extended economic turmoil and avoidable illnesses and deaths.
But even as Colorado ski towns are suffering a disproportionate number of outbreaks on the one-year anniversary of the state's first disease case (Patient Zero was an out-of-state skier diagnosed in Summit County), Polis plans no restrictions against visitors from Texas and Mississippi, both of which are ending their mask mandates on March 10, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott promising to open up his state "100 percent" on that date.
The announcements from Abbott and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves earned swift condemnation from President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, and that's no surprise. Anyone who's sat through half an episode of Grey's Anatomy can understand that these actions fly in the face of all scientific data known about the novel coronavirus and could lead to spikes not only in those states, but in any states visited by folks from there. The term "superspreader" springs to mind.
Earlier in the pandemic, elevated case counts in certain spots led to quarantine orders in several states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; rules there required anyone from locations too far into the danger zone to either stay away entirely or isolate for extended periods before being allowed to move freely within their borders. In fact, New Mexico — a neighbor of both Colorado and Texas — is still "strongly advising self-isolation for persons travelling...from high-risk states."
But Polis resisted such approaches, choosing instead to emphasize that visitors must follow regulations related to mask use, physical distancing and the like while in Colorado, as well as encouraging front-facing employees in tourist towns to treat every individual they encounter as if they have the virus in order to keep themselves safe. And he's sticking to that playbook now.
In the wake of the Mississippi and Texas governors' announcements, we posed the following questions to Polis's office: Is the governor considering requiring visitors from those states to quarantine for a period of time before traveling within Colorado? Would he encourage the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and local health officials to either order quarantines for visitors from those states or take other actions, such as requiring a negative COVID-19 test before they can spend time here? Or might he encourage Colorado businesses, particularly those that are located in tourism destinations, to take extra care with visitors from those states?
Some Colorado locations have already taken action. For a time, Pitkin County — home to the assorted Aspen ski resorts — was requiring visitors to prove that they'd tested negative for COVID-19. Starting today, March 5, the county is requiring any tourist spending one or more nights there to submit a traveler responsibility code form pledging adherence to "current public health orders, including wearing a mask in public," limiting "personal gatherings to no more than ten individuals from two households," quarantining if exposed to COVID-19 "even if it prolongs your stay," self-isolating and getting tested should symptoms crop up, and otherwise paying heed to CDC guidance. And the Breckenridge ski area has announced that it will be hiring security guards to enforce mask usage during spring break.
Here's the response we received from gubernatorial spokesperson Conor Cahill regarding tourists from potential trouble spots: "We encourage anyone visiting our beautiful state to follow local public health orders and guidelines and to be smart by wearing a mask in public, getting a free quick and easy test if they think they need one, social distancing in public and washing your hands regularly."
The message to folks from Texas and Mississippi: The welcome mat is still out — so come on over, and bring your wallet with you!
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