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After warnings to avoid travel, Denver Mayor Hancock flies to visit family for Thanksgiving

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has told people to avoid travel in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is at record levels in the city.

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock boarded a flight to Houston ahead of Thanksgiving despite his warnings that people should stay close to home and only spend the holiday with their own household if they can. 

His spokeswoman confirmed that Hancock was traveling to Houston Wednesday to visit his daughter in Mississippi, and that his wife is already there. 

About 30 minutes before the flight, Hancock's account tweeted out to “avoid travel, if you can” in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

>>> The video above is from Hancock's Nov. 20 update on COVID-19 ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

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Just after 4 p.m. Mayor Hancock issued this statement:

“I fully acknowledge that I have urged everyone to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. I have shared how my family cancelled our plans for our traditional multi-household Thanksgiving celebration. What I did not share, but should have, is that my wife and my daughter have been in Mississippi, where my daughter recently took a job. As the holiday approached, I decided it would be safer for me to travel to see them than to have two family members travel back to Denver.

“I recognize that my decision has disappointed many who believe it would have been better to spend Thanksgiving alone.  As a public official, whose conduct is rightly scrutinized for the message it sends to others, I apologize to the residents of Denver who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel. I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head.”

According to an email obtained by 9NEWS, Hancock’s assistant said the mayor would be out of office from Wednesday to Friday.

In an email to city staff on Nov. 18, Hancock wrote, “as the holidays approach, we all long to be with our families in person, but with the continued rise in cases, I’m urging you to refrain from travel this Thanksgiving holiday. For my family that means cancelling our traditional gathering of our extended family.”

In the email, Hancock also said anyone who travels out of state should quarantine for 14 days and that employees who can’t work from home will need to use their paid time off for the leave.

Denver City Council President Stacie Gilmore issued a statement Wednesday encouraging residents to stay home for the holidays. 

"Mayor Michael Hancock made the personal decision to travel for Thanksgiving," Gilmore's statement reads. "I expect the mayor will follow and comply with the directives he issued to all City of Denver employees and quarantine for 14 days upon his return." 

According to the Denver Public Health COVID-19 monitoring dashboard, the seven-day moving average of new cases in the county is 688. 

As of Wednesday, there have been 33,971 total cases of the novel coronavirus in Denver and 494 deaths. 

RELATED: Polis makes appeal for safe Thanksgiving as state hits 'height of infection'

Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said Tuesday that one in 41 Coloradans is currently infectious with COVID-19, the highest level since the pandemic began.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Polis said he was not aware Hancock intended to travel for Thanksgiving. The two leaders had both attended news conferences imploring people to practice social distancing. 

“I have not had any conversations with the mayor about his Thanksgiving plans and was not aware of them," Polis said.

Polis said he will spend Thanksgiving with just his partner and their kids, and that he hasn't seen his parents in months.

“Not only do I want to set the example as governor, of course, but frankly this is what we do because we love our family," Polis said. "My parents are 76, I want them to be here for 20 more years.”

State Rep. Kyle Mullica, a fellow Democrat and emergency room nurse, tweeted criticism of Hancock Wednesday afternoon. 

"Let’s be clear: As elected officials we are leaders in our community," Mullica's tweet read. "People look to us for guidance. Perfection is impossible, but as leaders we should always be striving to lead by example. Mayor Hancock's decision impacts all of us trying to do the right thing." 

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