Carter Mateer, a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, published an op-ed in the Boulder Daily Camera telling his story about the burdensome Covid-19 restrictions in Boulder. Read the op-ed HERE or pasted below. Find out more about the Steamboat Institute’s Stopping the Stampede campaign HERE.
Guest opinion: Carter Mateer: Under health order, 23 is the new 21
By Carter Mateer
The sharp tone of her voice startled my wife and I as we walked to the tennis courts in Boulder. We were surprised because we were outside and socially distant from everyone around us, yet we turned around to see a lady scowling at us from a distance.
At first, we felt a wave of shame because we were not wearing our masks and didn’t mean to put anyone’s life in danger. Still this interaction, while momentary, caused us to feel like foreigners in a place we’ve called home for the past four years.
Then, on Sept. 23, Boulder County made it clear we were indeed outsiders with its new COVID-19 regulations. Boulder County Public Health took action to address the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases by issuing an order prohibiting gatherings of any size involving people aged between 18 to 22 years in the city of Boulder.
As 22-year-olds, we were caught off guard. We were explicitly called out and grouped into a demographic of “troublemakers” for a rise in COVID-19 cases that my wife and I were not responsible for. If we dared associate with anyone, even to drive another person to the hospital for medical care, we risked being fined $5,000 or spending 18 months in jail. That is a lot of money for us as newlyweds!
The order has upended our lives. We began to second guess our whole weekly routine. It became unlawful for us in the city of Boulder to attend our weekly community life group meetings and church, eat on restaurant patios, or even go on walks together at night.
We were hesitant to support our favorite local restaurant on University Hill because we are not allowed in public. That restaurant, like the majority of new restaurants on the Hill, has implemented protocols to reduce the spread of the disease, and depends upon young adults for the majority of its sales. If its vital lifeline of young adults continues to be cut off, its survival is in jeopardy.
On Sept. 28, the Boulder County Board of Public Health responded to the public backlash and amended its ruling to allow 18- to 22-year-olds to gather in groups of two and adding exceptions for various activities. This decision is welcome and will help us feel more comfortable going about our daily lives.
However, it caused us to reflect on how quickly we could be singled out, negatively stereotyped, and have our freedoms taken away from us.
More seriously, the order has had a chilling effect on young adults by infringing upon our most basic civil liberties: restricting our rights under the First Amendment to peaceably assemble, violating the Eighth Amendment by imposing excessive fines and lengthy jail terms for violating the order, and disregarding the guarantee of equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment by drawing a distinction between 18- to 22-year-olds and other Boulder residents.
Adding insult to injury, there is no way to hold the public health officials who issued these orders accountable at the ballot box. Tough, unpopular decisions must be made over the course of the pandemic and leaders should consult health experts.
However, it is equally important for those leaders to put forward the best overall interest of their constituents and be answerable to the people for their decisions. In this case, it will be very difficult for young adults to keep the Boulder County Health Board and Executive Director Jeff Zayach accountable for issuing this order.
The longer this order stands, the further negative impact it will have on the livelihoods of 18- to 22-year-olds. It is no surprise that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, younger adults have “experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation” due to COVID-19 related public health orders, lockdowns, and other virus response measures. There are so many other health outcomes authorities may be overlooking by seeking to further isolate and treat us separately from the broader population.
Orders like this, no matter the professed good intentions, make Boulder a less inclusive community. It is damaging to sort people into categories and, overnight, take away everyday freedoms we are granted as Americans. Young adults play an integral role in the culture here and want to be treated as equal citizens.
Boulder is our home and we hope the county will seek more collaboration rather than use a heavy hand.
Carter Mateer is a recent University of Colorado Boulder graduate and a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Advisory Council.