Governing From the Hip

Enjoy it while you can: even as the governor decides to use these classifications for his latest incomprehensible edict, he has also decided to eliminate this color coding system.

Our governor, here in Colorado. I voted for him; I don’t know if I’ll be doing that again. I suppose I probably will, but this time around it will likely be a vote against his eventual opponent rather than a vote for him.

So far I am going to rate his pandemic response as: tepid. He comes out with these fiery, proactive remarks — we are going to be the top-ranked state in public health measures — and then undercuts his own plans in whipsaw moves that no one, particularly those in pubic health, see coming. I am still so disgusted with the beauty pageant approach taken by Energize Colorado, the most unwieldy organization I have run across in a long time, that I now have absolutely no faith in any of the governor’s plans to revitalize our state economy.

(Energize Colorado, with its 500 young hipster organizers, was tasked with providing money to Colorado businesses that needed it. It took them four months longer than they planned to even roll out their extraordinarily convoluted application process, and even longer to release any funds, all of it with the expectation that businesses would use this money for backdated expenses that by then had either been covered or driven the business out. They were on the hunt for tourism-based, innovative businesses that were lifting their communities while so destitute they couldn’t function without financial assistance owned by minorities living in rural areas. Apparently they found some, but I really haven’t seen any accounting of where these millions of dollars went, so who really knows.)

Apparently the governor’s approach to public health has been much the same, delivering announcements of policy and then changing those right as implementation begins. I have it on good authority that he has lost the votes of nearly everyone involved with our county’s incident response team — and earned their enmity.

Early on in this pandemic, our county developed its Coronameter. This color-coded chart set out expectations and provisions for public health measures that would be required based on seven factors such as the number of covid patients in our hospital, our positivity rate in testing, how many hospital employees were out with respiratory illnesses, and how full the bigger hospitals in the region were. Based on these numbers, all of which could be tracked and documented, we had charts telling us what we could and couldn’t do. In some colors, businesses weren’t to be open at all, perhaps curbside, or they could be open at 50 percent capacity, or fully open. Gathering sizes were spelled out both indoors and out . . . they are actually rather comprehensive pictographs.

But then the state, admiring of our system, took it but had to put its own spin on it. So it’s called the “covid dial,” and to confuse those of us in Gunnison County, the colors don’t necessarily match ours. So we can be in “yellow” on our dial but “blue” on the state’s, and several of our pictographs had red strikethroughs because the state was more limiting.

But now the governor has apparently decided he is over the dial, so it is going away April 16. In the meantime, he is using it in his latest pronouncement, which clearly did not, yet again, endear him to our county officials.

On Friday he announced that, effective Saturday (which really gave no one in the state a chance to review, plan or respond), his mask mandate was changing by executive order — an order that relies on his covid dial that goes away 10 days from now.

Does he just say these things without thinking them through?

If your county is “green” on the covid dial, which the two papers I read this in yesterday, both of them located in metropolitan areas not in “green,” noted are a large part of Colorado’s land mass but only about 4 percent of the population (both papers seemed a little bitter about this), then you don’t need to wear masks except in a whole lot of places.

Did I just confuse you? I have no idea how I managed to do that when the governor was so straightforward: If you live in a green county, which only exist until April 16, then you can go about in public places without a mask. Unless that public place is a school. Or a jail. Or a health care facility. Or a personal services business (like haircuts, nail salons, massages, tattoos). Or any place where 10 or more people of indeterminate vaccinated status might congregate. Or: if your county has its own mask requirements.

Which Gunnison County, green on the state dial, blue on the county Coronameter, has. We are all still wearing masks. Well, we at Pat’s have already run into our first local to come in unmasked and announce that it’s okay since he’s vaccinated. Apparently it doesn’t concern him that most of us at Pat’s are still in process on the vaccination issue.

At any rate, we are supposed to be wearing our masks indoors and if we are outdoors unable to socially distance. And we have a very clear metric for when we can stop wearing masks. We need to have 75 percent of our county population over age 65 vaccinated. Which we do; the estimate is at 77 percent, and chances are that’s the number of people in that age group willing to get vaccinated. We need to have 75 percent of the people who filled out the vaccine interest form who reported a health condition vaccinated. We are near 98 percent of those, although as people continue to sign up, that number fluctuates slightly.

And we have to have 10,000 county residents fully vaccinated, which is the estimate for herd immunity. As of the figures I saw this morning, was are only about halfway there.

Frankly, I feel a lot safer in our county’s hands than I do the governor’s, and I confess to a lot of disappointment. I thought he was going to manage this much more capably than he has. And if he can’t be capable, it would help if he could manage some consistency. But he is failing there as well.

I understand that as the scientific (there’s that word again) view gets informed by research, policy changes get made, and I understand the push-pull of public safety versus economic recovery, the desire and need to get kids back to school (where ours have been since August) versus the need to minimize spread. But despite the wind that blows as wildly as it looks like it’s going to here in Gunnison today, our county has shown that it’s possible to provide steady, consistent messaging and guidance.

Our officials probably haven’t won everyone over, but at least some of the people who think this is all a giant waste of time, if not a hoax, have found our public health director to be a straight shooter. And that comes from providing that consistency: regularly-scheduled points of information, infographics that were set out last summer that are still functional, and a message that doesn’t change: we’re not safe until all of us are safe.

I appreciate that, and think the governor ought to step back from his podium, make fewer idiotic, confusing pronouncements, and model an entire set of actions from officials here in Gunnison worth copying.

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