No, the pandemic is not over yet

Despite surging cases, Republican leaders go rogue after Polis lifts statewide mandates

Gov. Jared Polis delivers his state of the state address in front of the House of Representatives at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, pool)

On Tuesday, Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon made a statement so irrational it would make pi jealous: “This pandemic is over,” he exclaimed.

As Laydon spoke, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tallied yet another increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, a reflection of the state’s growing fourth wave. 

None of this data appeared to deter Laydon or his colleagues. In his moment of wishful thinking, he pontificated on the apparent similarities between the actions of Douglas County that night and that of the young child in Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“I want to have the courage of that young child, and for Douglas County to be (the) first county in the state to say that this pandemic is over.”

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Who knew that ending COVID-19 was as simple as a child proclaiming it was over? Also, the commissioner apparently fancies himself to be living in a fairy tale — a refreshingly accurate self-assessment, reflective of the larger disconnect from reality within far-right circles.

To be fair, the whimsically bad series of decisions out of Douglas County is not only the commissioner’s fault. Much of the blame also lies squarely at the feet of the governor who irrationally insisted such counties would act responsibly, despite every possible indication that they would not.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon

To see this, let’s rewind to a mere four days prior to Laydon’s adoration for policy-by-children’s-books. In a fruitless effort to justify moving forward with his decision to relax statewide mandates amid the start of a fourth wave, Gov. Jared Polis doubled down on his faith in pandemic-denying Republicans, boldly stating, “I have full faith in our city councils, our mayors, our county commissioners, our local public health authorities, to know the best way to message the importance of mask-wearing and avoiding social gatherings.”

It didn’t take long for that to backfire.

Throughout the pandemic, it’s no secret that Polis has been less than perfect. From refusing to enact “Stay at Home” orders, to a confusing and frustrating vaccine rollout, some of his decisions have been questionable at best. But placing blind faith in those who have denied the pandemic since the beginning? That might be one of the most objectively illogical things anyone could do — and Coloradans will pay the price. 

What are the consequences, you ask?

Given that Polis has released 34 of Colorado’s 64 counties from the state’s mask mandate — a list of counties that might as well read, “Who would vote for Donald Trump again in 2024?” — these counties will be left to decide whether they wish to enact mask mandates. I don’t suspect many will, but interestingly, Douglas County isn’t even on the list. Instead, the county took advantage of another laxity, opting out of the county’s health orders after Polis handed off control of general restrictions to local governments. El Paso County and Colorado Springs have also already stated they also don’t plan to enact local measures, and more are surely to come. In a wholly predictable series of events, we can now expect a patchwork of responses across the state.

This means that at a time when cases and hospitalizations are already increasing, we’re set to add gasoline to an already hot fire. As we race to vaccinate our state against the virus, we’re effectively tying one hand behind our back and hoping for the best. These moves place Colorado at significantly higher risk for a more humbling fourth wave, and they also increase the likelihood of spreading the newest variants of concern, B.1.351 and P.1. Both new variants have already contributed to crippling fourth waves abroad due to increased transmission.

I respect having faith in others as much as the next person, but managing a global pandemic is not the time for it. Polis should quickly reverse his decision and work to usher the state safely through the fourth wave. Local leaders have clearly demonstrated the governor’s faith was misplaced, and keeping the reins in the hands of those who believe they can wish away a virus is irresponsible.

This isn’t a fairy tale, it’s real life — and real lives.

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