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Colorado's governor is letting localities decide on COVID-19-related restrictions

CRAIG WICKER: I'm sick and tired of wearing a mask.


That's Craig Wicker (ph). He and his family visited Colorado from Dubai for the holidays.

WICKER: Americans are sick and tired of COVID, and I'm with them on that. I think we just need to get over it and accept that this is like a cold. It can be a bad cold. But I really think, if you're vaccinated, then it's really just a cold.

PERALTA: Now, experts say getting vaccinated and boosted is key to avoiding the worst symptoms of COVID-19. And for many with weakened immune systems or other factors, even being vaccinated and boosted isn't enough. Of course, the Boulder area is recovering from wildfires at the moment. We'll hear from a survivor today elsewhere in the program. But Colorado is also grappling with a nearly 250% increase in coronavirus infections over the last two weeks. And like many states across the country, Colorado hasn't implemented any new restrictions like mask mandates, which doesn't bother Shelley Herman (ph).

SHELLEY HERMAN: I feel great about it. I have my vaccine. I made that decision for myself. I think people have the right to make their own decisions. And if I was uncomfortable, I could wear a mask. But I am comfortable, so I don't have to. I like having the freedom of making my own choice. We need to just get back to living.

PERALTA: Colorado's governor, Jared Polis, is letting localities decide for themselves on restrictions. John Suthers is the mayor of Colorado Springs, the second-largest city in the state. He joins us now. Happy New Year, mayor.

JOHN SUTHERS: Happy New Year to you. Hope 2022 is a good one.

PERALTA: So Colorado is right now a COVID hotspot. The number of cases there has spiked over the last two weeks. How is the surge playing out in Colorado Springs in El Paso, your county, and what restrictions has the county and your city enacted?

SUTHERS: Well, the interesting thing about the surge is there is thus far no related increase in hospitalizations. Earlier in December, we were well over 200 COVID-related hospitalizations in El Paso County, and we're now well under 200. As long as that is the circumstance, I would expect that El Paso County and Colorado Springs would continue to have no government-mandated restrictions.

PERALTA: The governor has refused to issue state-level mandates. Don't you think that having uniform rules for a larger area would be better from a public health perspective?

SUTHERS: Yeah, I do. But I also believe that the governor is acting appropriately. We've learned a lot. You know, we saw what happened when we did a shutdown in March of 2020. I mean, there was a lot of adverse consequence to that in terms of mental health and human health, to our children from closing our schools. At this point in time, I do not fault the governor for not imposing any statewide mandates. And under the circumstances we're in right now, the adverse impacts of closing down the economy - I don't have a problem with that power not being exercised.

PERALTA: So the CDC shortened its recommended quarantine period from 10 days to five for people with the coronavirus, but there's a critical caveat - those people must mask up whenever they leave home for at least five days after their quarantine period. Do you trust that people in your city will actually adhere to this guidance?

SUTHERS: No, I don't necessarily. I think that well-informed people will, but I don't think that ill-informed people will. There is pandemic fatigue. And the political polarization in the country - which is a mystery to me why that interferes with basic health issues, but it has. So I don't see any mandate that I could issue today or that the county health department or even the state could issue today that would cause this to go away, if you will. Given the fact that our health care institutions at the present time are not overburdened, I think personal responsibility carries the day. You know, I just heard a dramatic case yesterday of a 46-year-old physician in Colorado Springs who refused to be vaccinated - wife and four children - and was hospitalized and died after two weeks. And that is tragic, but it's people making personal decisions that unfortunately are not in their best interest.

PERALTA: Is what you're saying that right now it's just the time to lean on personal responsibility, that the government's role is sort of limited at this point?

SUTHERS: I think, until we reach a point in time where we don't have the ability to take care of patients that need care and things like that - then I would suggest the governor may want to rethink a statewide mandate, but I don't think we're there. Based on what I see - I talk to medical professionals all the time - getting vaccinated is a no-brainer. I do think people who have boosters appear to be faring quite well. I think the message is very clear, and I wish that more people got that message. You know, get as much knowledge as you possibly can and make decisions which are in your best interest, your family's best interest and the community's best interest.

PERALTA: That's John Suthers, mayor of Colorado Springs. Thank you so much, Mayor.

SUTHERS: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.