Gov. Jared Polis and other elected officials participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Mobile Learning Lab at Pueblo Community College on Sept. 1. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has been shifting his tone at weekly and biweekly briefings on the state’s COVID-19 response: It’s less about the level of virus transmission, and more about economic development and recovery from the pandemic-era recession.
“It’s really great to kind of see how our state is bouncing back from COVID,” Polis said at a briefing Sept. 11. “We are working with communities across our state to really help make sure we build back even better than before.”
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On Sept. 11, Polis was joined by several officials from his administration at Morgan Community College in Fort Morgan, after touring northeast Colorado towns and visiting farms and businesses.
It was the second COVID-19 briefing hosted outside the Front Range: Last week, Polis spoke at Pueblo Community College in Pueblo, where he also discussed economic development initiatives in the central Colorado town, meeting with local lawmakers, participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a workforce development-focused Mobile Learning Lab, and stopping by the state fair.
By traveling around the state and meeting with locals, the administration seems to be signaling that Colorado has come a long way from spring stay-at-home orders — though Polis said Sept. 11 that he plans to extend a statewide mask mandate for an additional 30 days.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recorded a daily average of 245 new cases from Sept. 8 through Sept. 10. That’s a decrease from Sept. 3 — when the three-day moving average of new cases was 296 — though officials predicted a spike in cases could follow Labor Day weekend, and it’s too early to say whether the state avoided that. Meanwhile, Polis encouraged more people to get tested, as the percentage of tests coming back positive is trending slightly up.
But recently, officials at the governor’s COVID-19 briefings have devoted less time to encouraging Coloradans to wear masks, or discussing the virus trend, than to touting state initiatives and highlighting steps forward.
“We are committed at the state Office of Economic Development to providing as much relief as possible,” Betsy Markey, executive director at the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said at the briefing Sept. 11.
Markey encouraged more Eastern Plains businesses to apply for the state’s new Rural Jump-Start Program, which provides tax relief for new businesses.
“We approved our first (Logan County) Rural Jump-Start grant to Docupots … and we hope we have much more activity here on the Eastern Plains in the coming year,” Markey said, referring to a Sterling startup that makes biodegradable seed pots from shredded paper.
Polis, who met with a farmer earlier in the day, also mentioned that current drought conditions require looking for innovative ways to make agriculture sustainable in areas such as the Eastern Plains — perhaps by looking for crops that use less water, such as different potato varieties, or even through integrating farming with archeology.
A farmer Polis met with that day “showed us a number of the Native American artifacts that have been identified on her property,” Polis pointed out, saying that monetizing archeology could be an important piece of “making ag economics work, and of course the many other opportunities in ag tech that combine entrepreneurship with the deep knowledge base in the ag sector here in eastern Colorado.”
Timeline for lifting restrictions is still uncertain, but state looks forward
Polis’ executive order requiring Coloradans to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces was set to expire Sept. 13. He told a reporter that while he did plan to renew the mask order, his administration intends to lift other public health restrictions in the near future.
The mask mandate “is a key part of continuing the forward progress,” Polis said Sept. 11, “and it’ll be with us for the next 30 days.”
The next step, he said, will be “getting the nightlife back” by reopening bars and nightclubs, and allowing restaurants to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. Currently, a statewide order requires them to issue a last call no later than 11 p.m.
Bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food are still closed for normal business, and the governor didn’t indicate a timeline for when they could reopen.
The governor has also repeatedly encouraged the Colorado High School Activities Association, or CHSAA, to revise its plans for the fall sports season by allowing football and field hockey to take place. CHSAA’s board voted on Sept. 9 not to make those changes, but at the briefing two days later, Polis again said he’d like to see the ability for athletes to play this fall.
“The window’s still open for the additional fall sports that have been talked about: Football, field hockey for women,” Polis said. “Not every district is ready to do those, but many are.”
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