Polis talks to locals

CHARLES ASHBY/Charles.Ashby@gjsentinel.com

Gov. Jared Polis listens to local officials Friday about ways to boost the vaccination rate. From left, Grand Junction Mayor Chuck McDaniel, Grand Junction City Councilor Anna Stout and Colorado Mesa University President John Marshall.

There is little question in few people’s minds that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on the economy.

There are even fewer questions on the minds of local officials that Mesa County’s relatively lower vaccination rate is making it harder for the region’s economy to improve to pre-pandemic levels.

That, at least, was the underlying message from Gov. Jared Polis on Friday when he met with officials from across the Grand Valley during a roundtable discussion to gather new ideas on ways to boost the region’s dismal vaccination rate.

“The good news and the bad news is we have a very simple solution that fixes it, and that’s getting vaccinated,” Polis said during an hour-long stop at Colorado Mesa University while he is in town with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

The county’s rate that has stagnated in recent weeks at about 42% for fully vaccinated. That number isn’t the lowest in the state, but it is by far the lowest among the largest counties in Colorado, Polis said.

And because Mesa County was the first in the state to see the new delta variant, and that more highly transmittable variant has become the more prevalent one nationwide, Grand Junction and Mesa County have received a lot of national attention.

While attention usually helps boost an area’s profile, this isn’t the kind of publicity that’s good for business or economic development, the governor said.

“It’s a real imperative for the business community because having bad press, having Grand Junction in the national press, is not a good thing for business,” Polis said. “You don’t want to be one of those standout counties in still having COVID when a lot of the rest of the country is passed that.”

While the governor said there was little point in trying to convince people who are dead-set against getting vaccinated, some of the local officials said it still might be worth trying, and may be the only real way to get the county’s vaccinations numbers up to herd-immunity levels.

Palisade Town Trustee Jamie Somerville suggested to the governor that a main problem is that some of the naysayers are spending too much time listening to — and believing — misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccines.

He said it’s helpful that such national voices as FOX News’ Sean Hannity and other conservatives on television and in Congress now are urging people to get vaccinated, but others, such as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, are saying the opposite.

“We’re facing this big elephant in the room in this congressional representative who is opposing this and putting out bad messaging,” Somerville said.

“I’m wondering how do we stop that and fix it or curtail it,” he added. “That would make a difference. That’s an influential person. That would be a solution if it were possible, if there were some way that we could help her back out of her positions.”