Colorado's Democratic governor: I'm not mandating masks. The COVID emergency is over.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Is this guy running for president?

As a Republican, I mean. These comments are disqualifying in a Democratic primary.

DeSantis/Polis could be the fusion ticket America needs to heal.

If this post feels familiar, it’s because Jared Polis said something similar a month ago, which I wrote about at the time. He’s the only Democratic governor I know of who’s openly skeptical about the utility of extra COVID precautions, to the point where he finds himself fending off calls from the left to use his executive power to order new ones. Last month he argued that it’d be silly to issue a new mask mandate in Colorado when a neighboring state, New Mexico, already had one in effect and wasn’t faring better with COVID because of it.

Polis is a vaccine guy. Nothing protects a person from the virus like the vaccines do, he reasons, so what’s the argument for ordering lesser mitigation measures? The shots are free and ubiquitous. Go get one and then take any additional precautions you feel comfortable taking. But he’s not going to try to save you if you don’t want to save yourself. Call him a liberal-tarian.

Ryan Warner: We often ask listeners to submit questions and for the last few months, the majority have asked why you won’t impose a statewide mask mandate. We’ve recently seen a surge in cases and a shortage of hospital beds. Is there anything that would prompt you to return to a statewide order?

Gov. Jared Polis: Our top goal is always to follow the science, and there was a time when there was no vaccine, and masks were all we had and we needed to wear them. The truth is we now have highly effective vaccines that work far better than masks. If you wear a mask, it does decrease your risk of getting COVID, and that’s a good thing to do indoors around others, but if you get COVID and you are still unvaccinated, the case is just as bad as if you were not wearing a mask. Everybody had more than enough opportunity to get vaccinated. Hopefully it’s been at your pharmacy, your grocery store, a bus near you, [or at] big events. At this point, if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s really your own darn fault

Warner: It’s lovely of you to celebrate a health care worker, but if you will address the meat of her concern, which is if you are going to do everything in your power, make masks mandatory statewide.

Gov. Polis: That’s the kinda thing I didn’t hesitate to do in the emergency. The emergency is over. You know, public health [officials] don’t get to tell people what to wear; that’s just not their job. Public health [officials] would say to always wear a mask because it decreases flu and decreases [other airborne illnesses]. But that’s not something that you require; you don’t tell people what to wear. You don’t tell people to wear a jacket when they go out in winter and force them to [wear it]. If they get frostbite, it’s their own darn fault. If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. I respect that. But it’s your fault when you’re in the hospital with COVID.

It was ballsy of him to say “the emergency is over” at the very moment that it seems like the emergency might not be over. If, God forbid, Colorado gets slammed by Omicron, I’m curious to see which new restrictions he might issue to try to limit transmission. His state is already at a high level of hospitalizations, although it may have peaked:

Polis pointed out in the interview above that the surge in Colorado continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated, with well over 80 percent of the 1,400 people currently hospitalized unvaccinated. We’re about to embark as a planet on a new phase, a pandemic of the vaccinated. Is it worth ordering a new mask mandate to try to contain that, or have we reached the point where we admit that pharmaceutical interventions like vaccines and the new antiviral drugs are by far the most effective way to manage the virus?

Apart from perpetual self-isolation, I mean.

Polis and his state have a secret weapon in their battle with COVID. Last year Colorado had the lowest rate of obesity of all 50 states, a big deal given how extra pounds increase a person’s risk of COVID. I assumed that obesity was a comorbidity for the disease because having to carry the weight around stressed a person’s body, impairing their immune response. A recent study suggests that the risk from obesity is steeper than that, though. Scientists are finding that the virus is capable of infecting fat cells and taking up residence in them, with body fat becoming a sort of “reservoir” for SARS-CoV-2. Worse, as the immune cells within fat activate to try to eject the virus, they risk going haywire and producing massive inflammation that damages the body’s own organs. Doctors have observed that “cytokine storm” response in some sick patients since the beginning of the pandemic. It seems to be worse in obese people:

Inflammation is the body’s response to an invader, and sometimes it can be so vigorous that it is more harmful than the infection that triggered it. “The more fat mass, and in particular visceral fat mass, the worse your inflammatory response,” Dr. McLaughlin said, referring to the abdominal fat that surrounds internal organs…

Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. Blish and their colleagues carried out experiments to see if fat tissue obtained from bariatric surgery patients could become infected with the coronavirus, and tracked how various types of cells responded.

The fat cells themselves could become infected, the scientists found, yet did not become very inflamed. But certain immune cells called macrophages also could be infected, and they developed a robust inflammatory response.

That may explain why the U.S. has seen so many deaths from COVID. We have the highest obesity rate of any major nation. Coincidentally, Colorado is among the 10 states with the fewest deaths per capita from COVID. Two others with unusually low obesity rates, Hawaii and Washington D.C., are also bottom 10. If you’re unwilling to get vaccinated, a crash diet wouldn’t be a bad alternative. Although doing both is better, of course.