Gov. Jared Polis, as part of his swing through northeastern Colorado Friday, announced plans to extend the mask mandate another 30 days.
The daylong swing gave Polis an opportunity to meet with northeastern Colorado residents — although by invitation only — on COVID-19 relief, business support and agriculture.
He also gave an update on the state's response to COVID-19: the state's rate of infection, known as the "R naught" value, is at 1 or just below it, meaning one person infects one person or less. But the positivity rate has jumped to 3.14%, which Polis attributed to less testing, not fewer cases.
Please get tested, the governor pleaded in his news conference at Morgan Community College.
He also spoke about the growing cases of COVID-19 at CU-Boulder. "We knew" congregate living would be a risk, but it's important to keep this from becoming a greater risk for community spread among non-university residents, he said.
Acknowledging people's frustration with masks, Polis said he knows people can't wait for the mandate to be over. "It's working, likely to continue for another 30 days," Polis said. "Mask wearing is a key part of forward progress."
He added that he first wants to see restaurants and bars open past 11 p.m. and to increase capacity, and said the mask mandate will likely come to an end once those have been proven successful.
Polis also gave a report on his trip through northeastern Colorado, particularly the work done by the COVID-19 relief fund, which has so far given $1.6 million to community groups in northeastern Colorado for rent and food assistance, and a visit to a dryland farm that has struggled to produce in the wake of this year's drought.
Betsy Markey, head of the Office of Economic and International Trade, pointed to two new businesses in northeastern Colorado assisted by her office.
"Our community needs are really what shapes our economic development programs" at the state level, Markey said. For example, the state has an enterprise zone program that provides tax credits for rural businesses. The state's opportunity zone program is very active on the Eastern Plains, she said.
The Rural Jumpstart Program provides tax relief to new business owners and entrepreneurs, Markey added, with the first assistance going to a Logan County business.
"We are committed to providing as much relief as possible" in these difficult times, she said.
The Department of Local Affairs' Rick Garcia also joined the governor Friday. Garcia said his office has been working to boost economic recovery on the Eastern Plains, especially for pandemic relief. Logan County got $1.9 million and Morgan got more than $2 million for emergency medical recovery, Garcia said.
The state has approved almost all of the requests made to DOLA for pandemic relief.
"We encourage local counties and cities to get those requests in as soon as possible," Garcia said.
Garcia also talked housing in the COVID-19 era; his department has awarded $1.86 million in housing assistance to 786 households, including in Morgan, Yuma and Logan counties. Another housing program, to help landlords with mortgage payments when renters can't pay the rent, has awarded $2.9 million to 791 landlords, covering 3,000 households.
"We are doing all we can to help you rebuild your local economies," and DOLA is a strong partner, Garcia said.
Morgan Community College has just launched its first bachelor degree program in nursing, according to Angie Paccione, executive director of the Department of Higher Education. The college also has worked hard to prepare to reopen, she said, although there have been a few positive cases.
"It's great to see how our state is bouncing back from COVID," Polis said.
In other news:
• Polis briefly addressed the wildfire situation, saying he is glad for the cold and wet weather, which has not been enough to end the fires but has been a help to containing them, he said. Grizzly Creek is now 91% contained; Pine Gulch, the largest in state history, is also at 91%. Cameron Peak, which has produced much of the smoke over the Front Range, has grown to 102,000 acres and is just 4% contained, the governor said.
• The governor took time to celebrate that Jackson Lake State Park in Morgan County has been designated an International Dark Sky park, the fifth park in Colorado and the eighth location statewide.
• In response to a question on meat processing, Polis said they are trying to empower small and mid-size processors. Markey added that the state is reaching out to businesses from out of state to look at Eastern Colorado. "This area holds a lot of promise" for production, she said. Polis said there will be legislative proposals on this issue in the next session.
• Most school districts are open for in-person instruction, ranging from full-time to hybrid. Some are just starting to go back, such as Jefferson County. It's being done in a smart way, Polis explained.
"What we saw is a serous dedication to keeping teachers and students relatively safe; good practices around social distancing, and importantly, the cohorting of students," he said. There will be times when people catch COVID, he said, but it's important to contain it within the cohorts. That has happened in a few districts that have been able to contain the virus within those cohorts, he said.
This story will be updated.