Polis: COVID Trends "Alarming," Crisis Standards of Care Could Return

Dr. Rachel Herlihy and Governor Jared Polis as seen during a press conference last month.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy and Governor Jared Polis as seen during a press conference last month.
During an October 21 update about the ongoing fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis spoke bluntly about what he described as "the alarming trends we're seeing in Colorado," particularly when it comes to intensive-care unit beds, only 120 of which are currently open statewide.

Crisis standards of care in regard to health-care staffing and emergency medical services were deactivated on February 11 amid optimism that the crisis was starting to wind down. But Polis revealed that these standards "are ready to be reimplemented if needed — potentially tweaked or improved." He added that he was scheduled to meet later today with heads of major hospitals in the state "to see when or if we need to reinstitute them."

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman, who joined Polis and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the CDPHE's lead epidemiologist, offered additional reasons why such a move could be under consideration. More than 1,800 hospital beds of all kinds, ICU or otherwise, were unoccupied as of December 1, 2020, when the number of COVID patients in Colorado peaked at 1,847, he said. But even though the hospitalized-patients total stands at 1,130 today, the bed count has fallen to 934, around half the amount of last year. "Brain surgeries are being canceled, heart surgeries are being delayed, because of a lack of availability," he explained.

Of the 1,130 people hospitalized with COVID at present, 893 haven't been immunized, Polis stressed, and many of them are from younger demographics; the average age of unvaccinated patients is 57, compared to 73 for breakthrough cases. After imparting these stats, Polis noted: "I think you can sense the frustration we have. We have the ability to end the pandemic. It would be over if we had everybody vaccinated. We wouldn't be up here. We would be doing other things...but about a quarter of Coloradans have yet to take the recommendation to protect themselves."

Polis stressed that the state plans to do everything it can to reduce that group. He teased a major rollout for the vaccination of those between five and eleven once federal authorities give their blessing, probably in the next week or two. There will also be new campaigns to increase inoculations for those twelve to seventeen, who are already approved for shots, as well as to encourage booster shots for the general public. Polis referred to a major study about Pfizer boosters that showed an unboosted 5,000-person sample group experienced 109 symptomatic COVID cases, compared to just five of 5,000 who'd gotten a third jab.

During her part of the presentation, Herlihy shared data revealing that Colorado counties with the lowest vaccination percentages tend to have the highest hospitalization rates. The problem is particularly acute right now in Larimer County, which reinstated public masking rules this week, as well as Weld and El Paso counties, she said.

During a back-and-forth with journalists, Polis refused to take the bait when questioned about potential statewide health orders that have proven so controversial elsewhere. But when asked if capacity should be cut at Ball Arena, where the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets play, he recommended that people who've yet to be inoculated stay away.

"If you haven't been vaccinated, I would really want to alert Coloradans to the danger of attending those large indoor events," he said. "It's really important to avoid the kinds of crowded indoor events where you could easily contract the virus." Attending anyway could result in a situation where unprotected ticket-buyers would have to "head to the hospital, where they could put you on a ventilator and you could lose your life, like over 7,000 of our fellow Coloradans."

Other than that, enjoy the games.