COVID-19 Colorado Deaths Higher Than Ever Despite Positive Signs

Governor Jared Polis at the unboxing of the first COVID-19 vaccines to reach Colorado.
Governor Jared Polis at the unboxing of the first COVID-19 vaccines to reach Colorado.
Governor Jared Polis's December 18 update on the fight against COVID-19 contained a blend of optimism and negativity. Data provided by Polis and state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy showed that positive cases and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus are trending downward slightly — but continue to maintain a level higher than they would like. Moreover, the lower figures in other categories haven't yet translated to a dip in fatalities, which are setting grim records.

"One place where we haven't seen improvements is in reported deaths," Herlihy confirmed. "The numbers remain higher than they've been since the beginning of the pandemic, and half of the deaths have occurred in the last two months."

The updated total for deaths in the state caused by COVID-19 currently stands at 3,321. Moreover, Polis noted, 4,000-plus individuals have died with the disease in their system. As for new daily cases, the governor put that number at 3,693 — lower than reports from a couple of weeks ago, but still well above what the state saw during the summer. The same can be said for the 1,403 current hospitalizations and the positivity rate of 7.19 percent. As Polis pointed out, officials want to keep the latter under 5 percent — but at least the rate has slipped back into single digits, after a recent stretch of readings twice that.

Another decline noted by Polis: Approximately one in 59 people in the state is currently contagious with COVID-19, better than the 1 in 41 he reported earlier this month.

In her presentation, Herlihy unveiled graphics showing that Colorado's stats in the wake of Thanksgiving are in much better shape than the post-holiday numbers in many other states and the U.S. as a whole. If current trends continue, she predicted additional declines after the first of the year, around the time that schools are being encouraged to reopen for in-person instruction, with a return by mid-March to the type of readings that were common several months ago.

But these gains could all be lost if Coloradans don't do as well at mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding get-togethers with people outside their household over Christmas and New Year's Eve, Polis said, warning that bad behavior could push optimistic projections back for weeks or perhaps even longer.

The update also focused on vaccines. Polis was upbeat about the recent discovery that each vial of the Pfizer vaccine — the first to be received in Colorado — has been found to contain enough medication to administer six doses as opposed to the anticipated five, resulting in a de facto supply increase of 20 percent. Problem is, the federal government has already informed Colorado and other states that they'll be receiving fewer doses in week two of the distribution program than were shipped in week one. Citing media coverage in which Pfizer representatives said the extra vaccine is sitting in its warehouse and can be sent out as soon as the feds give them the addresses where it's supposed to go, Polis urged officials to get their act together.

His tone was considerably sunnier on the subject of the new Five Star program, which will allow limited opportunities for restaurants to reopen for on-site service even if they're located in counties at elevated levels on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard. He confirmed that Summit County has already won approval to take part; he expects some eateries there to begin such service as soon as this weekend, with Larimer County likely to follow by Wednesday of next week.

At the same time, however, Polis cited the strain that many Coloradans are feeling as the holidays approach, and introduced Aimee Voth Siebert, the CDPHE's work leader in the areas of behavioral health and inclusion. Siebert offered suggestions and promoted assorted state resources available for those who are dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges that have become much more common over the course of 2020, especially for those going through their first yuletide season since losing a loved one.

Topics raised during the subsequent question-and-answer session included plenty of queries about vaccines, ranging from supply levels (Polis conceded that he hasn't been provided with an explanation about the shortfall and doesn't know if it's supposed to last more than a week) to possible reluctance on the part of the general public to receive an injection when they get the chance (the governor acknowledged internal surveys showing that 50 percent of the state's Black community is concerned). Polis also responded to an inquiry asking if any information in Colorado was compromised by the Russian cyberattack that has reportedly impacted numerous federal agencies; the governor didn't mention any evidence of a hack, but said he's eager to get more details.

Oh, yeah: Polis also wished Coloradans a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year — or at least a happier one than 2020 has proven to be.