COVID in Colorado: Polis on How to Deal With Anti-Vaxers on Thanksgiving

Governor Jared Polis considers a question during a November 19 press conference about COVID-19.
Governor Jared Polis considers a question during a November 19 press conference about COVID-19.
During a November 19 talk about the ongoing fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis didn't advise people to un-invite family members who haven't been vaccinated from Thanksgiving gatherings next week. However, he encouraged them to ask anyone who's anti-immunization to get tested for the virus before sitting down to eat.

"Testing can give everyone you're celebrating with peace of mind that the only thing you're passing around is turkey, and not the deadly virus," he said.

After briefly mentioning reports of a shooting near Aurora's Hinkley High School (three people were reportedly injured) and stressing his devotion to making sure everyone feels safe no matter where they live, Polis, speaking from the state's emergency operations center, settled into a reflective tone. He contrasted the first press conference about COVID at the site, back on March 22, 2020 — during a period when chaos reigned, personal protective equipment was scarce, and a vaccine seemed like a distant dream — to the current situation, where supplies are available in abundance, officials have much more knowledge about the strain, and plans are in place to better deal with risks from the contagion.

At the same time, however, he emphasized that "this is still an emergency," and underscored this observation by offering current statistics. As of the 19th, Polis noted, there are 1,518 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado, including 274 people who've been vaccinated and 1,244 who haven't. That total includes eleven children age eleven and younger, and nine between the ages of twelve and seventeen, and he noted that "zero" of them have been vaccinated. If they had been, they almost certainly would not have required hospitalization, he went on, since no one in this age range has required such care since July.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates that one of every 38 unvaccinated residents is carrying the virus — a number that translates to one of every 62 people overall.

With hospital capacity stressed, Polis discussed efforts to add another 500 beds to the system, and to surge availability of monoclonal antibody treatment for those with symptomatic COVID-19 that has not yet progressed to a point where admission to a medical facility is necessary.

Last year, cases of COVID-19 tended to rise after holidays. But rather than focus on this prospect, Polis took a less strident tack. "I want people to be careful over Thanksgiving and the holiday season," he said. In addition to asking unvaccinated kin to get tested before attending get-togethers, he suggested that Coloradans wear masks, avoid large crowds and engage in other familiar safety measures no matter where they travel. "Do it because you care about not bringing the virus back to Colorado," he said.

Questions from the media that followed Polis's main remarks once again touched on when or if he might consider instituting a statewide mask mandate — a move the Jefferson County Board of Health urged him to take in recent days. As usual, though, Polis defended local control. Just because officials in some municipalities reject such an edict "doesn't mean they want to kill anybody," he maintained. "They just are striking a different balance." As a result, he supports counties that are "honest and authentic about the tradeoffs and make a decision that is responsive to residents of that community."

As for navigating a Thanksgiving meal where everyone is vaccinated with the exception of one or two holdouts, Polis suggested that loved ones treat them with respect while discussing the subject. "I think it's important that we treat our fellow Coloradans not as malicious people, but rather as folks who've been victimized by false information," he said. But even if they can't be convinced to roll up their sleeves, they should "feel free to get tested before Thanksgiving before they're around family and friends."

Who definitely won't be thankful if they end up in the hospital with a potentially deadly disease.
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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