La Plata County is experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at Mercy Regional Medical Center, according to health department data and comments made this week at a Durango City Council meeting.
To slow the spread of COVID-19, states like New Mexico have instituted travel restrictions, such as a voluntary self-quarantine of 14 days for anyone, including residents, who spend any amount of time outside of the state’s borders.
Mask-wearing is mandatory in New Mexico – everyone older than the age of 2 is required to wear a mask. People caught not wearing a mask could be fined $100.
Durango residents concerned about the number of out-of-state tourists are pushing for Colorado to enact similar measures considering the high number of cases in neighboring states. In Arizona, officials reported 4,273 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday and an all-time high in hospitalizations.
Ron Wazny, a Bayfield resident, said he understands that the state and its businesses rely on tourism.
“But what is more important, your life or money?” Wazny wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
Wazny said he has run into travelers from high-risk areas like Maryland who are waiting out the virus in places like Durango. To stop the growth of cases in Colorado, Wazny said Polis and San Juan Basin Public Health have to “shut down our borders now. ... Until this happens, nothing will change.”
But Polis said in a news conference Tuesday that New Mexico or any other state does not have the authority to enforce its 14-day quarantine rule for residents with jail time. Unless law enforcement has reason to believe someone is breaking the law or not adhering to the health advisory, you can’t be stopped or forced to leave the state.
Polis said the spread of COVID-19 will “cause widespread economic and human devastation” in Colorado, but “how much it spreads depends on the social environment we give it to spread.”
Overall, Colorado has done better than places like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico at wearing masks and social distancing, Polis said. But recently, he said “some of us got complacent” and were not wearing masks as often or social distancing enough.
For Polis, beating COVID-19 is more about “getting simple things right” like mask-wearing and reducing social interactions on an individual level, and less about imposing travel restrictions.
The restrictions in New Mexico are “largely voluntary,” Polis said.
As SJBPH continues to identify local, community transmission of COVID-19, the virus “is circulating within Southwest Colorado communities regardless of whether it’s being introduced by out-of-state visitors,” spokeswoman Claire Ninde said in a statement.
However, Ninde said it is “critical that visitors and residents alike adopt safe practices to control the spread of COVID-19, including reducing unnecessary travel.” But both La Plata County and Archuleta County see a fair amount of essential travel from other states for work or medical care, Ninde said.
Should wearing a mask be enforced?Mask-wearing, mandatory or otherwise, has proved controversial in Southwest Colorado.
“Like most Coloradans, I believe in bodily autonomy,” Polis said.
But town ordinances to require wearing a mask in stores, restaurants and other locations are “protecting the right for others to live,” like speeding laws that reduce the number of car accidents, he said.
The mask controversy stems from Coloradans “trying to balance sincere belief in liberty with understanding these decisions affect others,” Polis said.
But in terms of enforcing the wearing of masks, Polis said there isn’t an easy way to do it.
“We can’t have a police officer in every store,” Polis said.