Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Restore local control over COVID

Written by on March 23, 2021

Tomorrow, Colorado’s public health department is expected to ease the statewide mask mandate and loosen restrictions on outdoor gatherings, bars, restaurants, offices and more.  This is part of yet another change in the state’s revolving “COVID Dial,” arguably the greatest source of uncertainty for businesses across the state.

While the move is most welcome — and long overdue — it doesn’t go far enough, quickly enough.  When it comes to combating COVID, it’s time to restore local control now, not later.

The new plan going into effect tomorrow will ease restrictions in several ways.  First, more counties may fall under Level Green, which will likely encompass those with as many as 35 cases per 100,000 instead of the current 15 cases metric.

Level Green counties (only two under current rules) will be released from “state-mandated capacity caps for restaurants, personal services providers, retailers, manufacturers, health care providers or outdoor events.”  Masking will be up to local authorities or “private entities,” excluding students ages 11-18 for the remainder of the current school year.

While capacity limits will be eased somewhat for Levels Yellow and above, the mask mandate will remain in place “for all indoor public places with 10+ people.”  By mid-April, when all Coloradans will be eligible for vaccination, the state will move toward “a more local model, allowing local public health agencies to assume more control over capacity restrictions that are currently determined by the dial. 

The Polis administration can and should pick up the pace. 

Recall this time last year.  For several weeks before Colorado’s lockdown, Gov. Polis maintained a model of local control and personal responsibility for community and business restrictions. Then, a year ago this Thursday (March 25, 2020), he capitulated and issued his statewide stay-at-home order. 

County health departments were already tightening restrictions, but Coloradans took increasing precautions of their own.  A state-based approach was arguably never really necessary; but given the facts then, you could at least make a valid case for statewide policies at the time.

Also remember that, when Gov. Polis first issued his unilateral, statewide mask mandate eight months ago (July 16), masking by choice already averaged at least 75% of people.  In my city of Aurora, we were well above 80%.  We were already at around those numbers when masking was simply a request and not even mandated locally.  Again, that’s because most people took the virus seriously and wanted to do their part to “slow the spread.”

Today, Colorado is much better-positioned than ever before when it comes to COVID-19 prevention.  Already as many as 2.5 million residents are eligible to be vaccinated; over 862,000 have been vaccinated so far.  As Colorado Politics reported, “[S]tate modelers estimated last week that roughly 22% of the state is currently immune to COVID, either through inoculation or prior infection.”  We are on the road to genuine herd immunity.  That’s on top of the ever-slowing spread and improving infection numbers and death rate.

At this point, two things should happen.  All statewide COVID-19 mandates must be eliminated and local authority reinstated, effective immediately.  The early days of the pandemic prove this can be done, and our state is in a far better position than last March.  There is every reason to trust the local control we’ve come to hold dear in Colorado, especially after this top-down approach has gone on for a year.

Additionally, not only should Polis terminate his unilateral mask mandate, but local governments shouldn’t put theirs back in place either.  (School districts may be wise to keep mask requirements for middle and high school students through this school year, however.) 

Broad-brush mask mandates effectively turn ordinary, otherwise law-abiding people into criminals.  Amidst skyrocketing rates of real crimes, we have much bigger fish to fry.  Moreover, there must be a very high bar for the exercise of government coercive force.  That bar is definitely not being met today.  And as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul argues, it’s much more difficult to encourage vaccinations if they feel that their lives aren’t changing because more people are inoculated.  Ending mask mandates will help with that and reassure Coloradans that our government trusts the people.

Coloradans have lived with masks for almost a year; we’ve worn them at times out of personal responsibility and at other times because of a mandate.  No matter the reason, most have accepted the benefit and value of wearing a mask when the occasion calls for it.  There’s no reason to think a majority of Coloradans — especially those yet to be vaccinated — will throw their masks away simply because a superfluous mandate is over.  On the contrary, there’s every reason to trust Coloradans to continue doing what we must to finally end this pandemic.

It’s time to cut the “phase-in” nonsense, drop the COVID dial and re-empower local authorities to make their own decisions about mask mandates and community restrictions.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s March 23 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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