Littwin: Colorado is ready to slowly reopen for business, except in all the places it’s not

Denver is one of several Colorado communities that will be delaying its reopening beyond the Gov. Jared Polis's date of Monday, April 27. Denver's stay-at-home order is expected to be lifted on Saturday. (Photo by Susan Greene)

For those of you concerned that Jared Polis might have jumped the gun in announcing his slow-walking reopening of the Colorado economy beginning on Monday, you’re absolutely right to worry.

We not only have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, which everyone agrees is with us for the long term. We also have to deal with a fresh round of chaos.

We can begin with Weld County’s full-scale defiance of Polis, in which the county commissioners are clearly spoiling for a fight and Polis seems ready to fight back. The commissioners intend to ignore Polis’s rules on slowly reopening businesses Monday and instead plan to go full bore — reopening whatever they want to reopen, whenever they want to reopen. Restaurants, bars, gyms, you name it. A showdown is surely coming.

Here’s what you need to know: Polis’s program is called Safer at Home; Weld County’s is called Safer at Work.

And while we’re at it, let’s quote Weld County Commission chair Mike Freeman, who told 1310 KFKA Radio that the county is not picking “winners or losers.” He said: “This will be for businesses, in general, to open across the board. I think the governor’s been pretty clear all along that his orders are unenforceable.”

Meanwhile, leaders in Denver and most of the metro area are saying they want to go more slowly than Polis and will keep stay-at-home orders in place until at least May 9. Mayor Michael Hancock said the city’s reopening depends on when Denver can have sufficient testing in place and a sufficient number of trained contact-tracers. For you demography buffs, metro Denver has about half the state’s population.

Yes, Hancock knows that Polis has said keeping people at home for two more weeks, even without sufficient testing or contact tracing, would have little impact on the spread of the virus. But Hancock still put it this way at his Friday news conference: “We know we can bring back the economy. We know that we can rebuild businesses. What we cannot do is replace lives that have been lost.”

In Polis’s news conference a few hours later, the governor reiterated that, even with the new guidelines coming into place, people should stay at home whenever they can, except, I guess, when they really want to buy new shoes. But everyone, he says, should wear masks, wash their hands and socially distance. And seniors should stay at home just as they have in April. And everyone, meanwhile, should follow the fast-moving guidelines that are scheduled for May.

Confused? Why wouldn’t you be?  We already get a daily dose of confusion from Donald Trump’s coronavirus briefings. I’m sure you saw that on Thursday the president was suggesting we study injecting disinfectants to fight the virus. He actually said that while looking to a mortified Dr. Deborah Birx. On Friday, Trump said he was being sarcastic. Take a look for yourself. Lysol didn’t think he was being sarcastic when it sent out word warning against injecting or ingesting what is, you know, poison. All they needed to say was just read the label.

What seems to be on the agenda in Weld County is not as bad as injecting Lysol, but it’s bad enough. This is Ken Buck-style, hard-right style encouragement of liberty – meaning, I guess, the unfettered right to infect your neighbors with a deadly virus. By the way, Rep. Buck, who represents Weld County, has voted against every coronavirus-relief bill passed by Congress. And Weld commissioners have said they didn’t feel the need to consult state health experts. Can you spot a trend here?

As I might have noted before, these guys must think Patrick Henry would have said, “Give me liberty to stop in for a burger or give me death.” In this case, in fact, stopping in to buy a burger might cause someone else’s death. But in Weld County, which is one of the state’s hot spots for the COVID-19 virus, they are ready to reopen restaurants anyway — yes, with new guidelines, but without required state approval, which they could, but apparently won’t, apply for.

Polis said he is prepared to take fairly drastic steps if Weld County’s new rules endanger lives. “As governor,” he said, “I’m going to act to prevent that in Weld County.”

When asked what steps he could take, Polis said he is prepared to cut off emergency funding for the county, if it comes to that. In other words, it could get ugly — a lot uglier than the all-but-forgotten, phony secession movement in northern Colorado a few years ago. This is not phony. This is Georgia-level ignorance.

In Denver, Hancock coordinated his message with JeffCo and Boulder and the tri-county health departments of Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties. (Douglas County opted to go with Polis and not Denver.) What this means is that most of you reading this will not be seeing businesses reeopen when Polis has said the state is prepared to do so.

In his news conference Friday, the governor took a hard line on Weld and, in his defense, he had already said that counties wishing to open later than the state’s guidelines were welcome to do so. He helpfully added that those confused by the rules should just stay home.

But if metro Denver wants to wait until May 9, what exactly was Polis’s rush? I know he made his decision while in close contact with Denver metro area mayors and county commissioners. I assume he knew — although he certainly didn’t tell us — that local officials representing a significant percentage of Colorado’s population aren’t in nearly as much of a hurry.

It’s not so much that I doubt Polis has the sufficient communication skills to reconcile the messages of reopening with mass mask wearing or of being strongly encouraged that you are safer staying at home with also essentially telling Coloradans it’s fine to go retail shopping for any non-essential item or service that you fancy.

The truth is I don’t know anyone who has the necessary communication skills. People don’t do well with mixed messages. Most people don’t watch Polis’s news conferences or Hancock’s news conferences. They read the papers and news sites, watch TV, listen to talk radio, chat with their friends on social media, spend far too much time (I plead guilty here) looking at their Twitter feed. Let’s just say that these various types of media will not report the messages in quite the same way. 

When leaders of half the state’s population decide they’re not yet ready to reopen their economies, then there is no mass Colorado reopening, grand or otherwise. There is, however, the all-too-real possibility of mass confusion and, worse still, more mass contagion.

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  1. I don’t see any confusion in the Governor’s modified rules. You seem upset and confused that this large diverse state with a wide variation in population density won’t have one rule for all. It’s simple, rural less densely populated areas with a much easier task in terms of testing and contact tracing may ease restrictions. While densely populated metro areas with a very difficult and resource intensive task with regard to testing and contact tracing are not required to ease restrictions until they are ready. Makes sense to me. Weld county is a seperate story and including it here makes your story somewhat disjointed and confusing. Lou Maddog
    Hi Susan!

  2. I haven’t paid attention to EVERY public appearance of the Governor, so perhaps I missed it: where has he said his orders are unenforceable? Or anything like that.

    Weld County commissioner seems to be trying out to be an illustration for Simon & Garfunkel’s song:

    I am just a poor boy
    Though my story’s seldom told
    I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocketful of mumbles
    Such are promises
    All lies and jest
    Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest

  3. From my perspective, Polis has taken the only option he had.

    With a complete failure of adequately increasing our testing capacity at the federal level, what else could he do?

    As someone recently pointed out…this federal administration* has absolved itself of any responsibilities to the Union.

    We’re on our own. There will be no help coming from Washington. In fact we’re actively conspiring, like so many other states, against our own federal government in order to get essential medical supplies.

    As we’ve seen for many decades, this is yet another example of why you can only really count on your federal government (and apparently maybe your County governance…cough…Weld….cough) when democrats are in charge…otherwise, they are not your friends.

    Remember that in November.

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