Coronavirus

Polis: High COVID Levels Likely to Trigger Hospital Changes Within Days

Governor Jared Polis receiving his COVID-19 booster shot on October 22.
Governor Jared Polis receiving his COVID-19 booster shot on October 22. colorado.gov
The theme of Governor Jared Polis's October 28 press conference involved preparations for vaccinating kids between five and eleven years old in Colorado for COVID-19, a process that could get under way as soon as November 5, after expected approval from assorted federal agencies is finalized. But given the deteriorating data related to the spread of the disease in the state, Polis also addressed potential hospital-capacity concerns, too.

The governor revealed five possible steps that could be taken to address the overtaxed hospital situation. One of the plans, involving monoclonal antibody treatments, is already rolling out, and he predicted that some or all of the other four are likely to be implemented in the coming days or weeks unless case and hospitalization counts decline significantly — something he wasn't ready to predict.

According to Polis, the five "tools in our toolbox" are:

• Requesting federal medical surge teams to alleviate staffing shortages.

• Temporarily calling a halt to cosmetic surgeries and, possibly, other elective procedures, such as knee replacements, facial reconstructions and back surgeries, which can be delayed without endangering the life of patients.

• Activating crisis standards of care — a wide-ranging blueprint that encompasses triage procedures and more — that were in place earlier in the pandemic but were allowed to lapse earlier this year, after statistics improved.

• Issuing an executive order on patient transfers — something else that had been implemented previously but then dropped when immediate needs lessened.

• Distributing monoclonal antibody treatments by way of outpatient clinics, urgent-care facilities or mobile buses, two of which will begin operating on November 1, rather than in hospitals. This approach will free up bed space for individuals who are already symptomatic.

As for pediatric vaccinations, Polis revealed a goal of immunizing at least 50 percent of the approximately 480,000 Colorado children between five and eleven by January 2022. That would be in line with the pace of inoculations for twelve-to-seventeen-year-olds in the state; at present, around 60 percent of this demographic has received a first shot, and 54 percent is considered fully vaccinated. An initial order for 171,000 doses is already in place, and officials are ready to distribute them at large-scale events where kids and their families are comfortable gathering, such as museums and zoos. The state is also offering to partner with school districts to offer on-site vaccinations — an approach seen as extremely convenient, since local educators could collect permission slips.

To talk up the safety of the vaccine, Polis turned to Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Diana Herrero, deputy director for Colorado's Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response; and Dr. Lalit Bajaj, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist and chief quality and outcomes officer for Children's Hospital Colorado, one of many organizations partnering with the state to get shots into young arms. Polis supplemented their pitches by offering stats about the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing fatalities. He revealed that 31 people between twelve and forty have died from COVID-19 in Colorado since the Delta variant of the disease began to supersede the original strain. Of that number, thirty were unvaccinated, and the one person who had been immunized was immunocompromised because of what Polis shorthanded as "a terminal illness." These figures demonstrate that "the vaccine is very close to 100 percent effective in preventing deaths in people under forty," he said.

During the question-and-answer session that closed the event, Polis dodged questions regarding what might trigger a statewide vaccine mandate in schools. But he tried to encourage inoculations by suggesting that if enough kids get dosed, requirements for masking — a controversial subject that's at the heart of a current legal battle in Douglas County — could be dropped in certain locations.

At the same time, however, Polis stressed that while the COVID-19 pandemic will end, the virus will remain endemic. "You're going to get it in the next one to five years," he predicted. "It won't be over in three months. ... It's here. It will be a viral threat for the foreseeable future, and for generations to come."
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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