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Colorado Governor Jared Polis called a press conference for 12:45 p.m. Thursday and announced that he has issued a mandatory face-covering order for the entire state of Colorado, referring to it as “a statewide baseline.”

“The data shows that one of the powerful tools we as a state have, is wearing masks,” said Pollis. “So effective at midnight every Coloradoan age 10 and up is directed  to wear a mask or face covering whenever in any indoor spaces.”

“Colorado’s response is driven by data, not by politics, or wishful thinking,” said Polis, who was accompanied by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman. “Its cold, hard data and the data is beginning to be alarming. It was encouraging in June, but we need to go back to how we were living and being cautious … If we don’t act, the state would exceed its ICU capacity in early Sept.”

“There is time, but we are really on the knife’s edge,” he continued outlining aspects of the decision to implement what will initially be a 30-day order. “Many nearby states have shown us what will happen. It’s not if it will happen — it’s what will happen. This is a wakeup call for those who were getting lax. Our lives depend upon it.”

The announcement caps days of public pressure, a rising number of cases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, and surging cases of the pandemic in surrounding states. The Colorado Municipal League, the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST), and the Department of Local Affairs were among the many organizations, along with dozens of Colorado municipalities and counties, that had called on the governor to issue a statewide order to resolve the patchwork of local orders.

File photo: Governor Jared Polis asks Coloradans to Stay at Home with Executive Order. Screenshot taken of the press conference held by Polis announcing the Executive Order.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, the trajectory of the rates of COVID-19 cases in Colorado shows a rapid increase in hospitalization. The state has 260 people currently in hospital care for the virus and case rates are the highest seen in six weeks.

“We are at a 1.78 reproductive rate – anything over 1 is considered not good … two weeks ago we were at 1,” said Colorado Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy. What is important is the growth rate — and that is what we are tracking. In the last few days of data, we could exceed our ICU beds in the state in early Sept. with a peak in early Oct. The average age of those becoming affected is now under 40. The number of cases in older children and teens is going up and we’re seeing an increase in hospitalizations in mid-age.”

Polis, who has been reluctant to take the step to mandate face-coverings,  said that two sets of data swayed his decision. Among the most important — the data that showed that the Colorado counties and municipalities that enacted their own facemask orders had lower rates of virus, and when they did, COVID-19 spread more slowly. He reiterated that Colorado faces a dire picture “if it does not get a handle on this now”.

Asked during the press conference about those cities or counties that might not want to comply, the governor answered that at this time “there is no opt-out.”

The governor’s order takes effect at 12:00 midnight. In conjunction with the order, to get control of the situation, he is issuing a two-week pause in the issuing of any variances to any of Colorado’s 64 counties. He noted that there are areas of the state with variances, that are also facing high wildfire danger, indicating that those may be special situations.

“It’s a dire picture if we don’t get a handle on this,” said Hancock, who noted that in addition to the metro area, his leadership team is also in charge of Denver International Airport.

“I wasn’t on board when the numbers were going in the right direction… but now it’s different. Now I’m worried. A lot of people are hurting,” said Coffman. “Masks are an important part of the mix and the state will be an important partner with the schools — getting medical-grade masks to schools”.

“We have a choice, either more mask-wearing or more damage to our economy and our lives,” said Polis. “Wearing a mask is NOT a political statement. The virus doesn’t care….it is a threat to every single one of us.”

The announcement comes as the pandemic situation appears to be growing darker. The number of states experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases is now 44, with more than 3.8 million diagnosed cases, and more than 138,000 deaths. The U.S. has seen day after day of record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. But in another concerning move this week, The White House announced it was rerouting hospital and public health reporting of COVID-19 cases from the Centers for Disease Control, where for decades it has been the premier disease control reporting source, to a new function at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the rising alarm over this move is this fact: that this move will not allow any public access to the data — except what the White House chooses to share. This move effectively “masking” the data public health and government officials need to make decisions affecting all our lives.

Featured image: Governor Jared Polis leading the July 16 press conference in which he issued a mandatory facemask order. Image by Kevin J Beaty for Denverite.