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Littwin: Special session on COVID is not so special for those Republicans who refuse to wear masks

The pandemic is at a crisis stage in the state and in the country, so let’s pretend that having to wear a mask is not about saving lives but about, uh, freedom.

I should have seen this one coming a mile away — many Republicans refusing to wear masks on the first day of the COVID-related special session of the legislature — but occasionally I still have to catch myself and remember just how utterly and absurdly polarized we are not just as a country, but also as a state. 

What I mean is, I thought I had the local COVID-19 beat covered Sunday when I wrote a column about Michael Hancock’s foolish and selfish decision to fly to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and daughter, thereby ignoring his own entreaties for Denver citizens to stay home for the holiday. He has since apologized on 9News and then to city employees, admitting his actions were hypocritical and hoping that he can regain his credibility. It will be a tough slog.

I had already finished the column when Jared Polis tweeted that he and his partner, Marlon Reis, had tested positive, and so I had to rewrite. I have occasionally been hard on Polis for his reluctance to turn to mandates rather than relying on too-often-unheeded advice, but I have no doubt that the governor is fastidious about following the medical advice on COVID. And, so I updated the column to show just how deep we are in a crisis when even the governor comes down with the virus and the Broncos would have to play without a quarterback Sunday for breaking NFL mask-wearing rules when one of the QBs had tested positive for COVID.

Mike Littwin

And of course there is the president, who had tested positive and who had hosted at least one super-spreader event at the White House and probably two, and is now reportedly planning to hold White House Christmas parties. But we expect more from our Colorado leaders in a state that had overwhelmingly rejected Trump in the November elections.

To recap, we had heard all these warning shots as we headed into the special legislative session, and the legislature had ordered a strict, if admittedly unenforceable, mask mandate at the Capitol. (It should be noted that there is strict jacket enforcement on the floors of the House and Senate, which no one seems to reject.)

And yet, according to some estimates, as many as half the Republican legislators went maskless for at least part of the day Monday as the session opened. And I bet you thought it isn’t easy to thumb your nose at science while simultaneously sticking your finger into the eye of Colorado’s COVID-stricken governor, in the name of, uh, freedom, which in this case means nothing more than irresponsibility.

On Tuesday, Polis brought a certain Dr. Tony Fauci to his virtual news conference to explain the stakes. Fauci made it more than clear — as he usually does — that if you do a few simple things like wearing masks and distancing, like socializing only in small groups, that you can dramatically bring down the rate of infection. 

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It’s a sad irony that many who scream the loudest about keeping businesses open are the ones who most often ignore the guidelines that could help make that possible. Fauci added that no one wants lockdowns, that they would simply add to the problem of COVID fatigue, but if hospitals are overrun — and we’re getting too close for any kind of comfort — that they’re inevitable. You’d think people would listen to Fauci, who warns of “surge after surge” of cases expected to follow Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it’s not as if Fauci hasn’t been heard before. He says “help is on the way” with vaccines, but most of us won’t have access to them until late spring. In other words, we need to help ourselves first.

To get the full picture, it helps, I guess, if you see the viral photo of Rep. Larry Liston — playfully, he said — wearing his mask on top of his head. I’d seen that before somewhere. I think it was an elementary school playground. If you look at the top of the photo — taken by state Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Democrat — you can see the GOP legislative staffer, Ellen Moroney, who had announced on Facebook seven days ago that she had tested positive. You can see she’s wearing a mask, sort of. It doesn’t cover her nose.

House Speaker KC Becker asked her to leave the building despite the fact that Moroney said she had a doctor’s permission to return to work. Why do I think that Scott Atlas might be her doctor?

READ: More columns by Mike Littwin.

To Liston and his pals, you can play politics with the health of others. But don’t pretend you don’t know better. Don’t pretend you haven’t heard the statistic from the state that one in 41 Coloradans may be contagious. The number of cases and hospitalizations across the country, and in Colorado, is skyrocketing. Nearly everyone in the infectious disease world expects the situation to grow far more dire during the winter and especially after super-spreader events like Thanksgiving and Christmas and legislative special sessions.

We’re in a crisis, battling the worst pandemic in the county in 100 years and waiting desperately for vaccines that, in the best case, won’t be available to most people for months to come. Meanwhile, some state Republicans are playing games. Hancock had the good sense to apologize.The offending GOP state legislators, who presumably want to have their pictures taken without a mask, must think it’s a joke. 

Here’s what former GOP state representative Rob Witwer, who left the party for reasons like this, tweeted to Liston: “Larry, we served together, I know you’re a good guy at heart. 

“Even if you don’t think masks work, do it to show respect to your colleagues, some of whom are vulnerable. 

“At the very least, do it for the staff. They show up every day, they don’t have a choice.”

But more telling was what a current state representative, Republican Matt Soper, has previously said, via the Denver Post:

“Generally the feeling is, if you wear a mask, you’re a (Gov. Jared) Polis supporter. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re a true patriot. And it’s not so much about wearing masks. It’s about being told that you have to wear a mask.”

The Post noted that Soper was wearing a mask Monday, which tells you a lot about him. Of course, it’s not just Colorado. The virus is everywhere and the politics-over-science crowd is forever in plain sight.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who has been especially active in fighting the pandemic, is facing a second, sure-to-lose impeachment attempt by four in his own party. Meanwhile, Trump has said he would support a primary contest against DeWine in 2022. Of course, he would.

“At some point, this foolishness has got to stop,” DeWine said during a news conference. “I’m not talking about most Ohioans — just a small number of people who for whatever reason just continue to think and act this is some big joke and this is all some fantasy.”

Meanwhile, the Colorado Senate and House are expected to pass as many as 10 bills by Wednesday, bills that would allow the state to spend $328 million on COVID relief. It’s not nearly enough, of course, but Colorado has to do something since Congress, thanks largely to Mitch McConnell, has repeatedly failed to pass a second stimulus bill despite the obvious need in facing the pandemic and the resultant economic crisis.

People are desperate, including many thousands of workers and small businesses in Colorado. That’s no joke. It’s a tragedy. And ignoring that need is about as unpatriotic as you can get.


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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