Gov. Jared Polis presser

Gov. Jared Polis speaks about the coronavirus pandemic and homeless camps near the state Capitol in Denver at a press conference on July 23, 2020.

Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis addressed questions around recent news reports about a large event in Weld County during his weekly update on the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday, in an exclusive first-person report by Colorado Politics, at least 4,000 people congregated at a farm in Weld County for a bull-riding competition and live music performance by Hispanic bands. The audience appeared to be mostly Latino and young, and no masks or social distancing were required. A video of the event sent to Colorado Politics on Tuesday showed the crowds enjoying the concert, but no one wore masks or socially distanced. 

The state Department of Public Health and Environment knew Friday that the event was in the works but took no action. CDPHE issued statements that they expected local partners, including law enforcement, to "comply and enforce the law," but Weld County public health had already announced it would not comply with state public health orders, including seeking a variance for events of more than 50 people. That decision was based on an opinion by the county attorney that the public health orders "had no legal effect." 

The governor showed a map Tuesday that identified counties with growing case counts. Weld County was in the highest category, of more than 100 additional cases per day per 100,000 in population.

Polis was asked what he intended to do about Weld County and its refusal to obey public health orders, as well as CDPHE's refusal to take action on Sunday. He had just finished speaking at length about working with county and city partners in locations with growing case counts, but did not directly answer the question from Colorado Politics.

"No government policy can force people not to be stupid," he said. He estimated the Weld County event could result in a "mass spreading event" with 50 cases of the virus if even four or five people had the virus. He called the event "shady" and likened those who won't wear masks in large gatherings to drunk driving.

"If you party, go to large events, you're risking the lives of innocent people... . We will not stand for it and will put [to work] every available option to make people accountable."

Polis added the public health orders are the law in Colorado. "Someone can challenge the validity of that law," and there have been challenges, he said. "You don't get to choose which laws you follow or don't follow" and the laws of Colorado "need to be enforced. But ultimately we pay the price if we fail. No law can force Coloradans to do the right thing."

Polis also said he did not put all the blame on Weld County officials. "It's also on the 3,000 to 4,000 people who made a bad decision to put themselves at risk."

Polis was also asked if the state has the authority to tell a county that they're back to stay-at-home orders. "Weld County incorrectly believes we don't have the ability to do anything," Polis said. 

The governor also responded to questions around a letter from state GOP lawmakers who are calling for a special session on education. The GOP proposal suggests diverting public education dollars to parents so they could work from home and conduct in-home learning, but the proposal drew immediate criticism from Democratic leaders in the General Assembly.

Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo called it a political stunt. Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder said it was an attempt to create vouchers with public dollars, and Speaker of the House KC Becker of Boulder said the better solution is to get the virus under control so that schools and the economy can get back on track. None of the three had seen the GOP proposal before it was released to the press.

Polis noted that Democratic leaders had already responded to the proposal. "I always appreciate when the legislature wants to work more," but "if there's a state solution that there's a legislative majority for," he would be open to that discussion.

"This is not an option," Polis said, in part because GOP lawmakers never discussed the proposal with the majority party. "Any serious effort would involved negotiations and thoughtful approach, but I don't think a proposal that reduces options [for parents] would help in this situation."

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