Denver, Colorado is not New York City. There are not thousands of people stacked on top of one another here. To borrow from Arcade Fire, it’s a ‘massive sprawl with mountains beyond mountains’. The population skews toward young professionals in the downtown area and upper middle class families in the immediate suburbs. It’s a city and a state full of recreationalists, participating in a natural social distancing of the mountains in Aspen
So how does a city population known for their isolated outdoor activities handle a statewide lockdown order, like the one issued by first-term Gov. Jared Polis on March 25? Colorado faced the grim reality of ranking within the top 15 states for reported cases of COVID-19. Exclude the coastal states, and Colorado was in the top five. Denver’s cases have been outperforming the national average. This is not as surprising as it might seem, with Denver and the state at large serving as a destination getaway for coastal populations, especially those from the West Coast. Towns like Aspen become a fort and a refuge.
It’s also no surprise that many Coloradans’ response to Jared Polis was to ignore him. There are still foursomes on club golf courses. Boats and jet skis still populate the reservoirs outside Denver in the affluent communities of Chatfield and Cherry Creek. Flocks of bicyclists are still congregating. These are not people acclimated to hunkering down when spring arrives, after months of hunkering down in winter. But what of the people who are not yuppie getaway addicts?
Three weeks ago, grocery stores were fully stocked and there wasn’t a mask in sight. Then slowly, the reality sunk in. Businesses closed, the shelves emptied and shoppers scour the ethnic noodle section to replace their generic suburban pasta, all wearing masks as they do so.
Colorado has also become a politically volatile state, with a contentious and closely watched Senate race between incumbent Cory Gardner and former mayor/governor/brief presidential candidate John Hickenlooper. Gardner finds himself quarantined off in a state that is becoming ever more progressive, despite him being one of the major reasons for marijuana legalization. Gardner can claim credit for getting President Trump to send much needed ventilators to the state, but as Colorado grows bluer, that relationship becomes more of a hindrance than a help.
The impact of the shutdown varies from generation to generation. There are high schoolers here, for example, who won’t have a senior prom, or walk at graduation. One such person is my 18-year-old nephew Zach Miller, who is supposed to graduate from Arapahoe High School in Centennial, a metropolitan suburb south of Denver. His classes have been canceled. He turns in one assignment a week per class using Google Classrooms and once in a lifetime events are either terminated or have yet to be determined. ‘All proms were canceled last week,’ he tells me. ‘At first it was like “who really cares?” It didn’t really matter. Now I’m bummed we didn’t get to have that. I know girls who already bought their dresses.’
College campus tours have also been canceled, though the universities are still in touch with graduating seniors through Zoom calls and virtual tours. Choosing a four-year university might mean picking a school from photographs or taking a full year off before being able to visit colleges.
During quarantine, Zach connects with friends over video games and not much else. He told me he goes driving to pass the time as he says he starts to lose track of days without a routine. For kids too young, they won’t remember this ordeal. Older generations are confident enough in the prospect of better days ahead. But the high-school and college-aged youth will feel the effects of this moment for the rest of their lives. They’re the ones that will miss out on some of their most cherished memories.