COLORADO SPRINGS — News5's Elizabeth Watts had an exclusive opportunity to speak with Gov. Jared Polis this evening where we asked your questions.
Watch the interview below.
Back on April 10, News5's Rob Quirk also had the chance to speak with Polis about the state's response to Coronavirus.
The governor spoke on several topics, including News5 viewer questions that ranged from acquiring more supplies and tests to the state finally making it a priority to report publicly on the number of people who have recovered from the virus or discharged from hospitals.
Q: One of the big issues is the unemployment process right now. [People] are having trouble getting through to the state unemployment office, they're being put on hold, they're not getting through, the website continues to crash. What's being done to fix this problem right now?
Polis: These systems were never built for this kind of volume. Where a lot of phone calls are bottling up is on the phone line, where we've actually just expanded the number of people that are helping with the calls.
Try to get through on the website, coloradoui.gov. If you need help you can certainly call. Try doing it at different hours. We're continuing to increase capacity because we know Coloradans need to sign up. You're not missing benefits just because you can't get through for a few days.
Q: Back in March, you announced the creation of this [Help Now Colorado Fund] relief fund to help small businesses, the non-profits, the local governements, school districts in the wake of this pandemic. How much money has been collected and how much has been distributed so far?
Polis: We've raised over $16 million from individuals, from foundations, from companies across Colorado. We're working with Mile High United Way at HelpColoradoNow.org to make sure help goes out to those who need it the most in terms of first line workers...making sure we're filling in the gaps that some of the government programs simply aren't meeting.
Q: What's your office doing to make sure our small businesses and the people who need it most are the ones that are going to be getting this help?
Polis: Making sure a) that they know how to and got their requests in for the Paycheck Protection Program and b) then we work with the bankers... make sure they're working with everyone in a fair way to try to get those applications in.
I was very glad to see that Congress had a by partisan basis and added additional resources to paycheck protection program. We're hopeful that more Colorado businesses will be funded to get through this horrific time.
Q: The application deadline for the Help Fund is May 2. What do people need to know and provide when they are trying to get help from the state?
Polis: Payment Protection Program you work through your banks. We funded grants in sixty-two (62) of sixty-four (64) counties. The two counties that haven't been funded don't have any COVID patients either. We are trying to align it where the crisis is the worst, El Paso county is certainly one of those areas.
Q: What is your office doing to maximize compliance?
Polis: It is the law of Colorado, the people doing business with the public need to wear a mask at all times when interfacing with the public. We are working closely with Mayor Suthers and Mayor Gradisar and others to make sure that is implemented, both in our cities and our counties.
We are encouraging everyone to wear a mask when they're out. Let's be safe, and we'll get through this.
Q: How can we make sure that for the customers and the workers that they are wearing these masks?
Polis: Stores in El Paso and Pueblo country are opening their doors May 1 to the public. They have to follow the very reasonable health and safety guidelines that the State Department of Health has put down.
Nothing that would make it harder for a small business to get by. It's simply wearing masks, make sure there's social distancing, making sure they have control and limits over the flow of people into their store, and avoid having to be close to others while shopping. This is all available at ColoradoSaferAtHome.com.
Q: Why is it mandatory for employees to wear masks, but not for customers?
Polis: Many stores have done that: no mask, no service. We have the ability to hold businesses accountable for upholding the law, and businesses certainly have the jurisdiction to make sure customers are not being unsafe.
Q: With the possibility of school being virtual in the fall, what is being done for parents who might have to go back to work and their little ones can't be home alone?
Polis: We don't intend that at all. We plan on schools being in-person come fall. Schools are taking the precautions they need to be safer in this new environment. Schools may not be able to have "normal classes" right now, but certainly one-on-one meetings, special ed, technical classes, or for kids who need to get in-person help in groups of ten or less. We're working closely with districts to make sure they can get back to school safely in the fall.
Q: What research is going in to when we make this decision? Are we waiting to see how it plays out in summer?
Polis: There's a lot of thoughtful work being done at SaferatHome.com for all differnet kinds of businesses. There will be similar safety guidelines for schools and what we can do better with ample time to prepare for when students return in the fall.
Q: When can churches reopen?
Polis: It's still gatherings of ten or greater that are too dangerous at this time. Many churches are open, but they broadcast their services. They may have a small group go in, like those involved in the broadcasting. We're hoping to get back to normal as soon as we can in both spiritual and secular entertainment. Tne more Coloradans that wear a mask when they go out, the faster we can contain this virus.
Q: We had a bride write in saying her wedding is set for June. Should she cancel? Do you have any advice?
Polis: It certainly shouldn't delay anybody from getting married. As long as the religious gathering is of ten or less people, that is fine. You can schedule the public ceremony for a later date. You can do the religious and legal aspect, it's just the large celebration piece.
As long as Coloradans wear masks and remain socially distant, we'd obviously love for all Coloradans to have their celebrations in June. However, we don't want the bride-to-be and her future husband to put herself and others in an unsafe situation.
Q: People are asking about going camping, given that most of the time the small group would not be by other people. When can people go to campgrounds?
Polis: The campsites were really closed for two reasons: 1) we want to make sure sanitation protocol is in place, and 2) we don't want people going to parts of the state with higher infection rates, possibly infecting other parts. It's not so much the camping piece as it is using those local stores, gas stations, etc.
In the mean time, state parks are still open for visitation, and they have been throughout this whole crisis.
Q: Looking back at where we've been and to now, where we've come, is there anything you would have done differently up to this point?
Polis: I make the best decisions I can at any point in time based on the database and the science. We took early steps to protect our most vulnerable population. We have an aggressive testing program, and we've brought in top leadership so Colorado can lead the way in testing. We've increased our capacity twenty times since two months ago when the crisis started.
We're doing everything we can everyday to keep Coloradans safe and reduce any duration and severity of the disruption or ability to earn a living in our economy.
Q: Any last words of encouragement for our viewers who are feeling helpless and hopeless right now?
Polis: We are going to get through this, Colorado. We've been through fires, we've been through floods, and now we've been through the biggest pandemic of the century. We're going to be back. Colorado is going to be strong, it's going to be safer. The day will come when we can hug one another and embrace in fellowship as we did before. It may not be in May and it may not be this summer, but we're all looking forward to join together again and celebrate Colorado moving forward.
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