Colorado's Democratic governor: Mask mandates aren't working for the state next door so why should I order one here?

Well, this is different.

Offhand I can’t think of a single example of a Democratic governor eschewing a “maximum precautions” approach during the pandemic while his or her state was in the middle of a spike. No, wait, I take that back: Earlier this year when Michigan was getting slammed, Gretchen Whitmer declined to order new lockdowns to try to stop the spread. But that was a probably a political decision, as Whitmer had already alienated many voters with her draconian lockdown policies in 2020.

Jared Polis’s refusal to order an indoor mask mandate seems more science-based. If you look at New Mexico, he told reporters recently, they’re seeing the same sort of spike we are and they’ve had a mask mandate in effect since August 20. If it’s not working for them, why would it work for Colorado?

This guy really is following the science, in other words, and I’m almost scandalized to see a political leader do so. He even told reporters at this same presser that “Scientists simply don’t know why our region has a spike,” which is true but bracing in that leaders rarely admit that they can’t explain a local calamity.

Watch a few minutes, then read on.

Is he right that New Mexico and Colorado are experiencing similar surges? He is. Here’s New Mexico

…and here’s Colorado:

Polis apparently learned a lesson from Texas this past spring, when Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate while cases were falling and … cases kept falling. That’s because people will mask or not depending on their personal risk analysis, it seems, not on which formal rules are in place. No order from the governor will encourage masking the way a surge in cases will. And no lifting of that order will discourage masking among risk-averse people.

But Polis also seems to view mask mandates as a distraction from more important priorities, which is wise. When I was lobbying senior citizens in my family to get their boosters recently, one of them told me that he’d be fine as is because he wears his mask everywhere when he goes out. That’s foolish but understandable given the relentless hype about masking from public officials and science bureaucrats over the past 18 months. A mask, especially a common cotton mask, doesn’t provide remotely as much protection as vaccination does but who can fault someone who’s absorbed the messaging and come to the conclusion that it does?

Polis seems eager to counter that mistaken conclusion by emphasizing that there is no substitute for vaccination.

By not issuing a new mask mandate, he’s depriving the unvaccinated (or under-vaccinated) of their false sense of security that they’re safe when they go out so long as everyone’s wearing one. On the flip side, he issued an order recently making all adults 18 and over eligible for booster shots, expanding on the CDC’s own eligibility requirements. Polis’s approach seems to be to throw the weight of the state behind vaccination while de-emphasizing lesser measures of control, a shrewd way to communicate how people should prioritize. Although risky too, in that it leaves him open to the charge that he’s not doing everything in his power to try to mitigate the spread.

He was asked repeatedly yesterday on “Face the Nation” why he wasn’t implementing more restrictions but refused to take the bait.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I hear you saying you prefer businesses to do it versus the government putting in some of those restrictions. Is that right?

GOV. POLIS: Well, right now, if you’re vaccinated, your risk is one-tenth or one-twelfth what it was during the highest peak before. And for folks who are vaccinated, you know, this is still a higher risk than usual in the background. But this is like the endemic state of what this virus will always be. It’s no longer a pandemic for you. If you’re unvaccinated, this is the most dangerous time for you, no matter where you live in the country or in the world, because of the highly contagious nature of the Delta variant. The most important thing you can do is get vaccinated. But if you continue to be unvaccinated, please be careful, wear a mask and don’t gather in large indoor areas around others.

“It’s no longer a pandemic for you” if you’re vaccinated. That’s the message Polis wants to send to vaccine holdouts in his state, hoping it’ll bring them around on the one prophylactic measure against infection that meaningfully helps.

By the way, he and Colorado have a good track record on COVID. Since March 2020, Colorado is 40th out of the 50 states in deaths per capita and in the bottom 15 of states in cases per capita. I’m guessing that has more to do with the higher baseline of healthy residents in mountain country than with any of Polis’s policies but if he’s eyeing a national future he’ll have something to boast about in how he’s handled the pandemic.