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Colorado Governor Faces Challenges As COVID-19 Cases Surge And Winter Approaches

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a news conference on Oct. 20 about the steady increase in new coronavirus cases in the state.
David Zalubowski
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a news conference on Oct. 20 about the steady increase in new coronavirus cases in the state.

Colorado is among the states experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. In August, the state logged about 2,000 new cases a week. Last week, that number jumped to more than 8,000.

The state's Democratic governor, Jared Polis, warns that the situation could worsen in the coming months.

"We just have this short window of time to get this back under control before the holiday season, and we need to do it," he told reporters last week. "Every one of us needs to really ask ourselves what is our resolve to avoid unnecessary loss of life."

In July, Polis implemented a mask requirement for public indoor spaces that's in force until Nov. 10. On Friday the health department limitedsocial gatherings to 10 people or fewer from no more than two households.

"If people do need to feel the need to socialize, we totally understand that," he says during an interview on NPR's All Things Considered. "But not a neighborhood block party, not three or four different households. No more than two households."

Polis discusses the challenges he faces as the state tries to contain the escalation of community spread.

The mask mandate expires in a couple of weeks. Are you likely to renew?

We obviously evaluate it based on the data where we are at any given time with regard to the end date of that. But certainly where we are today, that's critical. It's a critical tool to help contain the spread.

Two Denver area churches have filed suit against the state challenging [the mask and social gathering orders].They won. How do you manage the growing number of infections in your state when you have lawsuits trying to prevent you from enacting protections?

Well, it should really be about people wanting to do the right thing. I was so thrilled to see several Episcopal and other bishops supporting mask wearing among their members and their congregation. We've seen so many institutions of faith go online, limit their attendance. I think certainly a lot of faith leaders care deeply about the lives of their congregants and understand that we'll be able to rejoice and fellowship in person again in the not too distant future. But that we're not there yet.

There have been a worrying number of outbreaks at Colorado schools. ... The Colorado chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics iswarning in-person school is becoming less feasible because community spread is increasing. What do you do about that? Are you prepared, for example, to dial back in-person teaching?

Most of our schools are back in Colorado. They have guidance they need to follow. But then, you know, some of them, whether they're back two days a week or five days a week is locally driven. We have found, across the board, that schools have been as safe or safer than other things kids might be doing, primarily because they're structured and there is the ability to implement strong health guidelines like mask wearing, which is required for all students across our state in class, as well as the teacher.

In your state and many others, you have a mask mandate in place. You're saying you'll look at whether you renew it. You've got a new health order limiting the size of crowds. ... But is that enough, given winter is coming, the holidays are upon us and the numbers are going in the wrong way?

So, you know, in Colorado, weather is a factor in winter. ... People do tend to congregate in larger indoor areas in winter than they do when the weather is nice. And so it's really making sure that, to the extent people want to engage in these activities, like dining, for example, we have the capacity restrictions around restaurants to make sure that there's sufficient social distancing and the wait staff and others in the kitchen are all wearing masks as well.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.