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MERINO, Colo. (KDVR) — A 15-year-old in the small northeastern Colorado town of Merino sent a message to Gov. Jared Polis regarding teenagers’ mental health. Kaden Piel asked for help from the governor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to allow students back in the classrooms and to participate in high school sports.

Piel has cited a handful of suicides in northeastern Colorado during the pandemic as his incentive to get the governor’s attention.

“I hurt so much for the people who lost a person to suicide,” says Piel. “This is my way of advocating for them, as well as myself and my peers.”

Merino is 115 miles northeast of Denver and about 35 miles south of the Nebraska state line.

“Students feel like nobody cares and nobody understands what they are going through,” Piel said. “It is so hard to watch people 30 minutes north of us do everything normally and as if COVID had never existed. All high school events are business as usual. This includes sports, clubs and organizations.”

Logan County, where Merino is located, is in “Level Red” restrictions with a collective 2,690 COVID-19 cases and 43 COVID-19 related deaths. The population of the county as of 2019 is 22,409. The state determines levels based on the number of new cases, the percent of positive COVID-19 tests, and the impact on hospitals, as well as local considerations.

“There have been zero teen deaths caused by COVID in my region. I now ask you, what is the real pandemic among teens? I feel our voices must be heard and immediate changes must be made,” Piel said.

Polis said the benefits of having students back to in-person learning has been a topic of discussion in the back-to-school committee meetings. He said they are trying to convince more districts that they can go back safely.

“I think it’s wonderful that you have a young leader there in Merino that is helping to lead the way in talking about the mental health benefit of kids being in school,” Polis said.

The governor’s full response to Piel is below:

“Kaden really makes the case that we have been making for months and that school districts need to hear: our kids deserve in person education. It’s not just about academics, although that is a big part of it, it’s also about mental health. People of all ages have suffered from loneliness and from the global recession, but kids in particular deserve the most normalcy that we can give them during the pandemic and that includes being in-person at school.”