Gov. Polis Calls On Colorado To Adopt A ‘Strong Mask Culture’ To Fight Coronavirus

Updated 3:22 p.m.

In a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus, and speed the forthcoming economic recovery, Gov. Jared Polis asked Coloradans to adopt face masks when they leave their home for essential functions allowed under the state’s ‘stay-at-home’ order.

“When you’re out of the home, you should use a mask at all times,” Polis said Friday.

He acknowledged the frustration that the state feels as the need to stay home to fight the pandemic has stretched into April. Some of those frustrations have been driven by the job situation, and masks are part of what the administration sees as a means to help the state get back on its feet.

“This is really going to be, for the foreseeable future, an important part of our culture in Colorado, our culture that saves lives and also helps us all return to work sooner rather than later,” he said.

The request is for face coverings, not medical masks, like the N95, which he said must be reserved for medical workers.

“It’s about the right mask for the right job,” Polis said.

The cloth face coverings can be made from materials around the home, like old-shirts and should be washing in hot water frequently — especially after an individual has returned from an activity outside of the home. In a bid to get positive social pressure applied to the call for facial coverings, Polis asked people to cover the basics and cover your mouth, cover your nose and to be creative about your mask to “make it cool.”

Polis at one point in his news conference demonstrated his mask, branded with the state’s government logo that his administration adopted.

The request for cloth face coverings is somewhat of a reversal of policy. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has said people who aren’t sick don’t need masks. Elected officials across the country have increasingly called for the general population to take this step.

Thousands of Coloradans have been making masks, joining together through Facebook Groups like the Denver Mask Force. In the San Luis Valley, health officials worked with the community to make masks with furnace filters that could stand-in for surgical face masks.

The call for face coverings is not a requirement, but Polis gave the hard sell to encourage it and enlisted Colorado singer Nathaniel Rateliff, who made an appearance by video at the Friday press conference in a mask.

The state has teamed up with The Colorado Mask Project to offer patterns, including ones that only require material and a pair of scissors.

Colorado's economy has taken a hit since the arrival of the new coronavirus and unemployment claims have soared. The number of unemployment applications in Colorado for the week that ended on March 28 rose to 60,784 — an increase of 3998.7 percent from the same time in 2019.

The leisure and hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, venues, hotels and recreation — made up about 28 percent of the unemployment claims filed for the week ending March 14.

“Economic productivity is our friend,” Polis said. “It's not the enemy. The enemy is physical proximity.”

In reference to the federal help that is on the way to Colorado, Polis framed the individual assistance and changes to unemployment as “stay at home money.”

“This is a payment to stay at home,” Polis said as he drove home the point that Coloradans should be doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19. “And we all have our honor and integrity. We don't want a handout. We want to earn it. You're earning it by staying at home, except when absolutely necessary.”

Polis has prevailed on personal responsibility before when he asked that residents recreate closer to home and stay out of the high country. He took that tack again toward the end of this Friday press conference.

“As Coloradans, we all want to show that we're responsible people and the way that we can show that we're responsible for the next few weeks,” Polis trailed off as he fit his mask over his face, before he finished, “Is by wearing a mask whenever you're out in your neighborhood at the grocery store, helping to save lives and also reducing the duration of these extreme measures that need to be taken.”

CPR News reporters Alex Scoville, Michael Elizabeth Sakas and Kelley Griffin contributed to this report.