Coronavirus

Polis Rips COVID Anti-Vaxers, Doesn't Care If They Have a Death Wish

Jared Polis during remarks for a Western Governors' Association event last month.
Jared Polis during remarks for a Western Governors' Association event last month. YouTube
During a November 2 press conference about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Governor Jared Polis used some of his harshest language yet to decry the approximately 20 percent of Colorado adults who continue to reject vaccinations.

"I'm very frustrated," he admitted at one point, noting that today's situation is very different from what it was a year ago, "when we were all in this together and we had great sympathy for anybody afflicted, and we were all wearing masks to protect one another."

That was before vaccinations were widely available. As for those who have yet to get inoculated, "I have no qualm if they have a death wish, but they're clogging our hospitals," Polis said, noting that "this is the most dangerous time of the pandemic" for those who haven't gotten their shots. Current estimates show that one in every 51 residents is carrying COVID-19, putting the state's infection rate at the fifth-highest in the entire United States.

According to Polis, who was joined at the event by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lead epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy and COVID-19 incident commander Scott Bookman, 1,254 people are now hospitalized with confirmed cases of the disease — the largest number since December 2020. The strain on the state's hospital system caused by this influx of ill individuals, around 80 percent of whom are unvaccinated, prompted several new, amended or extended public-health orders this past weekend, and Polis said there's a very high likelihood that at least one more, involving the return of crisis-care standards for medical facilities, will be enacted before long.

Herlihy used fresh CDPHE data to underscore why such a move may be necessary. Projections suggest that hospitalizations could hit the 1,500-patient mark within a couple of weeks, she said, and if mitigation efforts such as mask-wearing, avoiding large gatherings and other familiar safety protocols slide by just 5 percent, as may well happen as the weather cools, the total could be in the 1,900-patient range by late November or early December. That would push against Colorado's maximum hospital capacity, causing a situation that's already acute in places such as Pueblo County to become even worse.

One way to potentially reduce the number of COVID hospitalizations by 200 to 400 patients would be monoclonal antibody therapy, and Bookman outlined how the state is making such treatments more available. He noted that two mobile buses specializing in distributing the medication rolled out on November 1, with three more expected to join the fleet next week; more than 160 facilities have signed on to provide it, too. But Bookman and Polis both emphasized that the therapy is only effective if it's given in the nascent stages of a COVID infection, when a person is experiencing mild symptoms. Once a patient becomes so sick that hospitalization is necessary, monoclonal antibodies are no longer an option.

Moreover, Polis pointed out that while such antibodies can prevent between 70 and 80 percent of hospitalizations if they're taken early in the process, they're still not as effective as vaccinations, which are closer to 90 percent effective for people who've gotten a booster. He encouraged everyone immunized with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines six months or more ago, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson dose at least two months ago, to get boosted as soon as possible — especially people in their sixties and older, since the protection offered by the vaccines begins to wane after half a year or so.

Whle fielding questions from reporters, Polis seemed to find it increasingly difficult to be polite about the unvaccinated. Asked why he's resisting a new statewide order about the use of facial coverings, he admitted that "the patience of most Coloradans is wearing very thin," with many asking themselves, "Why should we keep wearing masks to protect the 20 percent of folks who haven't taken the simple step of protecting themselves?"

Given the prevalence of the virus in Colorado right now, Polis predicted that "if you're unvaccinated, you will probably become infected" within the next several months, "and some people will die."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts