We’ll Watch Gov. Polis Answer Colorado’s Questions Tonight With These Questions Of Our Own

April 7, 2020

Gov. Jared Polis will once again go before the state to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He’ll appear at a town hall that will air at 7 p.m. on CPR News, along with 9News, KRDO and KKCO/KCJT. 

He’ll answer Coloradans’ questions about the disease and the state’s response. It’s more involved follow-up to his speech last night, when he made an emotional appeal to residents to pull together in the face of the overwhelming disruption to people’s lives.

“I know many of you watching this evening are distressed, frustrated, and angry,” he said in the prepared speech. “Not just because we’re all stuck inside but because we’re unsure of what the future holds for ourselves and our loved ones.”

He acknowledged people’s uncertainty and the questions many have about when the crisis will pass, and when the state can return to normal. “We all want a timeline. When will this nightmare be over?” he said.

Tonight, though, he’ll be faced with the actual question-askers, as 9News anchor Kyle Clark puts Coloradans’ video questions to the governor. (Submit your own here).

CPR News reporters have been closely following the state’s response. We’ll be listening for these things tonight.

Outbreaks In Nursing Homes

Last night, Polis delivered some good news: Social distancing measures do appear to be slowing the spread of the disease in Colorado. State disease researchers confirmed that -- with a note of caution.

But up against that sliver of good news is the growing number of long-term care facilities and nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks. More than 40 facilities in the state had outbreaks, as of last count.

Not long after the outbreak began in Colorado, nursing homes limited visitors and began screening staff. “Our goal is ‘not one patient affected,’” Jennifer Brown, director of nursing at a Grand Junction facility called The Center at Foresight, told CPR early on. But many of the state’s deaths have been tied to the outbreaks in facilities for elder care, and families with relatives in the state’s numerous facilities face tremendous uncertainty right now. People over 60, and particularly over 70, are more likely to experience severe symptoms and to die of COVID-19.

So far, the state has offered relatively limited information on what they’re doing to prevent further outbreaks. We’ll be listening for whether Polis addresses this facet of the outbreak and offers more details on what the state is doing.

Securing The Supply Chain

Last night, we were curious if Polis would talk again about the “Colorado Paradigm” he’s mentioned before: the plan to work with research institutions and the private sector to do mass testing, supply the state with urgently needed ventilators, masks and gloves, and generally set the standard for the nation for how to respond to COVID-19.

He did -- a bit. He said he hoped the outbreak in Colorado would look more like South Korea or Taiwan, where authorities were able to control the spread with fewer lives lost than in Italy or elsewhere.

But it is still not clear that the state has enough key supplies to meet the number of patients it expects to see, particularly ventilators. At least one company, Fort Collins-based Woodward, has announced plans to produce ventilators for the state. But it’s not clear how many or whether they’ll meet the state’s need.

We’ll be listening for more details on this. Does Polis put a finer point about the gap between what the state has and what the state needs? And -- does he address reports that federal bidders are swooping in on state purchases? Basically, is the state securing its own supply chain or are things a bit more insecure?

More Economic Protections?

Second only to the public health crisis is the economic downturn social distancing has brought on. Just today, a survey from the Colorado Restaurant Association found that 14 percent of the restaurants asked could close permanently and 2 percent already had. More than 150,000 jobs had been cut. Those employees, now out of work, are trying to make ends meet and stay hopeful.

One of their biggest concerns? Making rent or paying off their mortgage.That’s true for some businesses as well, who are paying for rent for shuttered spaces. Activists in the state have pressed Polis to do more to protect renters from evictions; some even want him to put a statewide freeze on rent, mortgages and utilites. Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser have urged the justice system to halt eviction enforcement. Polis has also pointed people to faster and expanded unemployment benefits coming under federal law and $1200 checks that individuals will receive.

Still, we’ve heard a lot of worries from business owners, people teetering on the brink of homelessness, people making hard choices about what to spend their dwindling money on. Tonight, we’ll be listening tonight for any new plans or protections he plans to put in place, as well as how he handles questions about the dire financial situation many people find themselves in. 

How long is this going to last?

This question has become one of some political urgency as some state Republicans press the governor for more transparency on how he’s deciding on statewide social distancing measures. In a letter dated April 6, state House Republicans asked Polis to share more data.

“We need to know the metrics being used to determine success: Whether that's hospital capacity, recovery rates, new infection rates, etc,” House Assistant Minority Leader Kevin Van Winkle told CPR yesterday. “Until the public has access to this information, it is impossible for the people to have expectations for a path forward.”

So far, Polis hasn’t stated specific quantitative benchmarks. He’s laid out factors he’ll use to decide, including hospital capacity, secure supply chains and control of the virus’ spread. In last night’s speech, he said an extended stay-at-home order was necessary because “the data and the science tells us that staying at home, it is our best chance, our only chance, to avoid a catastrophic loss of life -- the deaths of thousands of our friends, our neighbors, our family members.” He said the signs of success were a sign to keep social distancing, not to roll back restrictions just yet.

But the question still remains: When will the state return to some semblance of normalcy? And how will we know its time? We’ll be listening very closely for Polis to get more specific about how he’ll be making those decisions.

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