We are living in a moment unlike any we as a state, country or world have ever experienced. It is a nation-shaking moment. At any point on a map---save the poles---the Coronavirus or Covid-19, it’s scientific name, has left its mark. More than 275,000 worldwide have been sickened by the virus, more than 11,000 have died. The numbers are fluid and inch---in some places, leap upward by the day. This silent and almost science fictional but real enemy has created a new, surreal reality.
At week’s start, Colorado had confirmed nearly 600 cases of Covid-19 with seven deaths. Those numbers will change daily. California, New York and Washington are the hardest hit states. The virus has created a deadly competition.
As the battle is waged, we wait on the highest levels of leadership to meet its basic responsibilities. With the enemy’s first wave having already landed, we still do not know where things as basic as surgical masks and gloves or respirators and test kits are or when they will be arriving. While moments of hope and reassurance are spoken of in Washington, the reality is that real action is coming from closer to home.
Just weeks ago, it would have been impossible to predict so many of the things that have happened to the country. No sports---at all levels. State legislatures adjourning early for fear of contagion. Governors of three (also fluid) densely populated states ordering shelter-in-place edicts when there was no threat of imminent natural disaster. The list grows by the day. California, Illinois and New York (so far), with combined populations of nearly 72 million, ordered people to remain inside until an ‘all-clear’ is given. In real time, ‘it’ just got real. Welcome to this new world.
On Sunday, to contain Covid-19, Colorado Governor Jared Polis ordered “non-critical workplaces” to reduce staffs by half, more if possible. The plan, to minimize potential person-to-person infection. Just days earlier, he told bars and restaurants to lock their doors to on-site customers for at least the next thirty days. Take-out service, including alcohol, was still available. Gyms, theaters and casinos were also ordered shut. In the most sobering tones, Polis declared Colorado officially in a state of emergency.
Late last week the Governor also announced the formation of an Emergency Economic Advisory Council to be headed by former Denver Mayor and Cabinet Secretary Federico Peña. Its role, to stabilize, brainstorm and advise his administration on managing the crisis that the virus has heaped on the economy. “We can reach out to a broader community, inform people of what we’re doing and encourage people to participate,” said Peña. Denver’s former chief executive lauded Polis’ action as “a message to the Colorado community that there is a plan, strategy and people at work.”
Neither the Governor nor Peña are restricting the flow of ideas to either big employers or big names. “There are all kinds of roles people can play,” he said in a Sunday phone call. If people have “time, ideas and energy,” there’s a place for them, he said. Recovering also means working side-by-side with the government to move things forward.” The idea, very basically, is to lend a helping hand to a friend or neighbor---in this case, all of Colorado---suddenly impacted by this crisis.
Everywhere you look there are no schools, no church services, no large public gatherings. Social distance, maintaining a six-foot space between people, has replaced handshakes and hugs. It’s a new expression but in an age of Coronavirus, now well-known and heavily practiced just as frequent handwashing and sanitizing are the new norm.
In Colorado and elsewhere, steady jobs---by the thousands---have disappeared or shrunk. Working on-line---working at home---is ‘Plan B’ for others. This stealth and foreign enemy has rocked the biggest employers, the smallest ones and everything in between. Freelance workers, musicians and the gig workforce have gone from riding the wave to praying for a life preserver. Unemployment claims have skyrocketed. End of the week or end of the month paychecks have suddenly become uncertainties. The same, for many, can be said for simply putting food on athe table in every zip code in the state.
But a number of employers have stepped up to ease workforce pain. Kroenke Sports, owner of Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth has pledged to pay arena workers for the next thirty days. The Colorado Rockies and Major League Baseball have committed $1 million to help ballpark workers. Some Colorado distillers have expanded whiskey making to now include the manufacture of hand sanitizer. The list goes on.
Community food drives across Colorado are underway. Over the weekend, Arvada’s Community Table Food Bank handed out food to “anyone showing up…no ID’s or addresses” required. In south Metro, residents organized a surgical mask and glove giveaway to health care workers.
If you see something, do something, suggests Peña. “There are all kinds of roles people can play,” he said, including lending a hand as part of a company effort or, as private citizens. That could mean giving time or money to help the homeless, the elderly or shut ins. In a time of uncertainty---and in our lifetimes, this surely qualifies---he said, get involved. “Stretch your imagination,” he said. “Be positive and hopeful. Look up, not down.”
A generation ago, a young Federico Peña asked for one thing as he stood at the precipice of a new era. ‘Imagine a great city,’ he said back then. Today, he is making another ask. Rich, poor and everyone in between, ‘remain hopeful and imagine a great solution.’