Back in March of 2020, when Covid was just getting started and we were all told that it would just be two weeks to flatten the curve, Governor Jared Polis was reluctant to impose a statewide lockdown of any kind. He preferred to let local governments get out in front on that. Denver’s Michael Hancock did just that, announcing a city-wide travel and business lockdown (although he couldn’t quite decide whether or not liquor stores constituted essential businesses). Governor Polis followed suit shortly thereafter.
This time, All-Star Game aside, Hancock isn’t playing ball.
In the face of revised CDC guidance advising even fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors, Denver announced that it would not even issue a new mask mandate, trusting businesses and individuals to do what was best for them.
Why the change? The overall political climate surrounding the virus has changed, and the effects of that change are exacerbated by factors specific to Denver.
Pubic impatience growing
While cases have been growing in Florida, most people understand that self-reported cases are a poor measure of a virus’s actual threat. In countries with high vaccination levels, deaths simply haven’t kept pace with cases or even hospitalizations. This isn’t quite the bullet-proof shield that the public had been led to believe that immunization would provide, but it’s good enough.
If vaccination will at a minimum keep me from having severe symptoms, what am I really worried about? Especially since the price has been so high locally.
Public impatience with Covid-based restrictions has only been growing, especially amidst confused messaging from the CDC and the administration. It has been particularly manifest in growing disgust with teachers unions who are using Covid to wrench concessions from school boards while avoiding actually having to teach, now placing a third year of schooling in peril for some students.
Contrary to some, distrust of public health officials’ emergency powers is a longstanding fact of American life, documented at least as far back as nearly 20 years ago. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the later anthrax attacks, public health officials began floating model legislation to give them emergency powers in the event of a bio-terror attack. Writing in the American Journal of Public Health in March of 2003, John Colmers and Daniel Fox noted that:
“The debate over the Model Act is revealing that a large number of Americans question—and many even reject—the principles on which public health authority has historically rested. Many people do not agree that the traditional police powers of government sanction intrusive action to protect the public’s health. Many have asserted that privacy and liberty are too precious to compromise, even in response to bioterrorism. These people are too numerous, in all sections of the country, to be dismissed, as some of their opponents do, as “crazies,” “wingnuts,” “right wingers,” or the “civil libertarian left.”’
This was before governors discovered that their state constitutions allowed them to simply declare public health emergencies and then effectively turn public policy over to the public health officials, without the need for such legislation. In response – Colorado Democrats notwithstanding – legislatures in an increasing number of states have moved to rein in gubernatorial abuses and prevent future one-man rule.
Wreaking havoc on Denver’s economy
Hancock is surely aware of this trend in public opinion. Especially since the damage he help wreak and the hypocrisy with which he did so have contributed to it.
According to his own Department of Finance, in the Budget Kickoff briefing given to the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee back in April, small business in the Denver metro area has been devastated, with the total number of small businesses operating down 30%, and the entry-level-friendly Leisure and Hospitality Sector down over 40%:
In addition, employment counts are down worse here in Denver than in other parts of the state:
All of this means that unemployment remains stubbornly high, especially among demographics that the mayor professed to care so much about in his latest State of the City Address.
At least he had the sense to deliver the address from Denver rather than, say, Houston.
In Wallet Hub’s ongoing tracking of city employment recovery nationally, Denver ranks 146th of 180 cities. Other Colorado cities also do poorly – Aurora ranks 156th, Colorado Springs 120th.
All of this has left Hancock looking for ways to do something without crushing the city’s and region’s economy again. He and Polis appear to have agreed on a vaccination mandate in lieu of a mask mandate. In a statement yesterday, Hancock said that the city would use its police powers to require vaccinations of city employees, as well as those working on nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and schools – all high-concentration areas where outbreaks have occurred in the past.
We might balk at the city using its police powers to forcibly vaccinate private sector workers. Those who are already frontline healthcare workers, for example, have had access to various flavors of vaccination for the longest time possible. Fear of missing a day of work may play a larger role there than lack of knowledge of what they’re dealing with.
But there’s no question that it’s a far cry from telling people not to go to the grocery store or turning even more small business owners and employees into wards of the state.
The public’s disdain for broad-based lockdowns, even for mask mandates, after the freedom that was conveniently on display for the All-Star Game, simply won’t allow for such measures.
Joshua Sharf is a Denver resident and regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.