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Littwin: As coronavirus surges, it’s time for Polis to move from encouraging masks to mandating them

This is an easy call. Dr. Fauci says we could reach 100,000 cases a day. It’s up to governors to prevent this disaster. Trump is too busy fighting phony culture wars to bother.

Nobody has to lecture Jared Polis on the importance of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is an evangelist on the topic. He was out early — even when people were making fun of his DIY masks — and he has been out often, really often, like all-the-time often. People used to talk about his sneakers (does he still wear them?). Now, it’s masks.

So, no, Polis doesn’t need a lecture. What he needs is a not-so-gentle nudge.

Now is the time to mandate masks in Colorado, as a prophylactic (not that kind, but it uses the same theory). Actually, the days leading up to the July Fourth holiday was the time to mandate masks. I know Polis is not a mandate kind of guy. He just vetoed his first bill of the year because it mandated insurance companies to pay for treatments that would reduce the use of opioids. Polis says we need more data on cost, which he assured could come next session. I wonder how many people will become addicted to opioids while we wait.

Mike Littwin

Look, they just mandated masks in public even in freedom-loving Texas. In mid June, Texas had about 2,000 newly reported cases daily, a reasonable number for a state with more than 29 million residents. Now it’s at 8,000, and now Houston, one of the nation’s leading hospital centers, is worried about running out of beds. 

I don’t know what Davy Crockett would say. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be “You can all go to hell and I am going to Texas.” I do know what Texans Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin had to say once up a time, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Kristofferson would later explain that the song lyric is meant to show freedom’s just a double-edged sword.

There are few things dumber — even in the Trump era — than the ridiculous politicization of masks. This is easy science. It’s like third-grade science. Wearing a mask is not a burden. It’s no more about freedom than wearing a seat belt. It’s less trouble than putting on sunscreen. 

Dr. Tony Fauci is less concerned about the violation of freedom in wearing masks than about the ever-growing spread of the virus. He told Congress that we may be headed to as many as 100,000 cases a day in America. We were over 55,000 a day as of Friday, with hospitalizations in hot spots soaring. We were at 48,000 cases Tuesday when Fauci made his dire prediction. It’s safe to guess that if Fauci is right, Colorado will get its share of the 100K.

From the beginning, Trump has put governors in charge of what should be a national response. But now it couldn’t be clearer. The president is too busy stoking culture wars to be much bothered by the fact that we lead the world in coronavirus infections and in COVID-19 deaths.

When Trump went to Mount Rushmore on Friday for a Fourth of July speech, he spoke before yet another unmasked crowd, with no plan for social distancing, with barely a mention of coronavirus, with no mention at all that Don Jr.’s girlfriend and Trump campaign official, Kimberly Guilfoyle, had tested positive upon arriving in South Dakota. Instead, he used Independence Day to warn the crowd of the so-called dangers of a “left wing cultural revolution” that “is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.” That was just for starters.

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As the nation celebrates those who march in protest of the police killing of George Floyd, in protest of the death of Elijah McClain, Trump went on to — wink, wink — decry those whose “radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society.” 

What they’re after, he said, ““is not a better America. Their goal is to end America.”

This McCarthyite speech was reminiscent of Trump’s American carnage inauguration speech, only much darker. This time, he was decrying “new far-left fascism,” angry mobs, “cancel culture” and a theory that “children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe the men and women who built it were not heroes but villains.”

It was one of the uglier moments in modern American political history, all meant to distract from Trump’s terrible poll numbers and from his great failure in both treating the pandemic and in responding to cries of racial injustice. I could have sworn at one point during the Mount Rushmore speech that tears were running down Lincoln’s great granite face.

Here’s what Trump had been saying about the virus. On Wednesday, he said he expected it to “just disappear.” On Friday he was saying that more positive test results were “great” because that meant we were doing more testing. A week before, of course, he had said testing was “overrated.” 

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He’s absolutely wrong on just about every count, but that’s not exactly headline news. In Arizona, they’re testing and 24% of those testing have contracted the virus. On Tuesday, Trump said we were “in control” of the virus. You can’t be in control when more than 40 states are seeing the number of cases rising. The only good news is that death rates haven’t risen along with the new surge, which includes many younger people, but it may be a few weeks before we know for sure. 

Even leading Republicans are finally saying that we should wear masks, and that maybe even Trump should wear one. We hear it from Mitch McConnnell, Marco Rubio, Lamar Alexander, Kevin McCarthy, even Sean Hannity. But the best we could get from Trump was that he “likes” masks and that he thought when he did wear one — that one time, remember, but not where anyone could see him — he looked like the Lone Ranger.

Talking on BBC radio — the Trump administration has done all it can to solve the coronavirus crisis by severely limiting Fauci’s appearances on American TV — Fauci directly contradicted Trump.

“In the United States, even in the most strict lockdowns, only about 50% of the country locked down — that allowed for the perpetuation of the outbreak, which we never did get under very good control,” Fauci told BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” program while noting that much of Europe’s lockdown was closer to 97% enforced.

In Colorado, the virus has been in reasonably good control. But anyone can see the danger signs. We should have moved to a national mandate on masks, but the best Polis can do is to mandate them in Colorado. I mean, it’s not like Polis has to send everyone home or shut down businesses or even take away the right of anyone crazy enough to eat inside a restaurant. 

Encouragement isn’t enough. Arizona, which borders on Colorado, is the nation’s hottest of hot spots, and there’s little reason to think that the virus won’t make the easy trip to Colorado.

What we have now is a slight uptick, enough of an uptick for Polis to have reluctantly shut down bars. (Here’s a thought on bars: It’s the last place, outside the Oval Office, that you should expect responsible behavior.)

Trump could have used his trip to Mount Rushmore to call for Americans to come together in the fight against the virus. But no one expected that. Trump doesn’t look back to an America that used to take the lead when global calamities struck. When he looks back, he sees a heritage marked by statues of Confederate generals and of — I swear — a “people who dreamed the spectacular dream, it was called Las Vegas in the Nevada desert.”

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But here’s the new, showgirl-free history. While EU countries are mostly “in control” of the virus and reopening (but Americans pas bienvenus), America has seen new cases increase by 90% over the past two weeks, mostly in the Sunbelt, from Florida to California, and especially in states with Trump-sycophantic governors like those in Texas, Florida and Arizona. In Arizona, just a week ago, they wouldn’t even let major cities mandate mask wearing. And now? 

Now it’s time in Colorado to ensure that mistakes made in other states don’t come back to haunt ours. It’s not enough anymore to ask people to wear the damn mask. It’s time to say you must wear it, for history’s sake, for everyone’s sake.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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