Gov. Jared Polis said Coloradans need to be better about limiting their exposure to other people as he announced Thursday that the incidence of coronavirus is growing in the state.
Polis said there has been an increase in cases over 11 of the past 14 days in Colorado. The state’s “R naught” number, the rate of the virus’ spread, is now more than one, meaning that each infected person is, on average, spreading the disease to more than one other person.
The bottom line: The number of people with COVID-19 in Colorado is growing, Polis said.
“We need to be more responsible,” Polis said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in Denver. “We need to wear masks more. We need to avoid gatherings more.”
He added: “We need to make changes in the way we live.”
Polis said this will be “the summer of no parties” as he encouraged people — younger Coloradans, in particular — to gather only in small groups or not at all. At most, he said, people should be gathering with three or four others.
The state reported 452 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday and the percentage of people tested who test positive for the virus reached its highest level — 5.1% — since June 1 on Tuesday.
Coronavirus hospitalizations, at 202 on Thursday, are at their highest level since June 7.
“We are losing right now in Colorado,” Polis said. “We’re not losing as bad as our country. We’re not losing as bad as hotspots in Arizona and Texas.”
The governor said, however, that between 50,000 and 100,000 Texans and Arizonans visited Colorado last weekend for the July 4 holiday.
Polis warned that if the trend of increasing cases continues, restrictions on Coloradans’ movement could be put back in place.
“Hopefully we can reverse this trend here before it gets so bad that larger changes and actions are needed,” he said.
As of Thursday the state’s “R naught” value was between 1.2 and 1.3, Polis said. He’d like to see that drop down to 0.9, which is where it was at the start of June as cases in Colorado were going down.
“This is a small, mid-course correction,” Polis said. “People have to do a little better. We don’t have to radically change how we live, we just have to go back to how we were in early June and hopefully we’ll be OK.”
“I haven’t ruled anything out”
Polis applauded the move by counties and cities across Colorado to implement mask requirements, but he once more stopped short of issuing a statewide mandate himself.
“I don’t think there’s too many people sitting around saying: ‘I won’t wear a mask until there’s a piece of paper,'” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the state could enforce such a requirement.
Polis made a similar argument against issuing a statewide stay-at-home order in late March before reversing course and locking Colorado down for more than a month.
A growing number of states, including Texas, which has resisted coronavirus restrictions, have implemented statewide mask-wearing rules.
Polis said he could not be more clear that people should be wearing a mask whenever they are in public and that it shouldn’t take a mandate for Coloradans to cover their faces.
“Wear a damn mask,” he said emphatically.
Polis’ decision not to mandate mask-wearing has clearly irked members of the medical community, as seen during a Thursday meeting of a medical advisory group to the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee.
The advisory group — mostly made up of doctors and other health professionals — had gathered online to discuss plans for how to fairly distribute emerging coronavirus medications and vaccines.
But, by the end of the meeting, the members had shifted to debating whether they should ask the full GEEERC to recommend a statewide mask mandate to Polis.
Most members of the group were adamantly in favor, decrying the “tomfoolery” — one member’s word — of people refusing to wear masks. But Dr. Matthew Wynia, the the director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, offered a counterpoint. Though Wynia said he would ultimately be in favor of a mask mandate, he said there is research to suggest that mandates may not be as effective as strong, consistent encouragement.
When something is mandated, Wynia said, people may reflexively rebel and push for the mandate to end as soon as possible. When strongly encouraged but not forced to wear a mask, people may feel it is their choice to make the right decision.
“The governor’s approach is not entirely irrational,” Wynia said.
The advisory group adjourned without making a decision on a mandate recommendation, vowing to continue the discussion before taking it to the full GEEERC, which is made up of health leaders from across the state who provide guidance to Polis on how to respond to the epidemic.
Polis would not commit either way on a mask mandate and he sidestepped a question about whether a recommendation from GEERC would lead him to enact a statewide requirement.
“I haven’t ruled anything out,” he said.