In the midst of offering his latest update on Colorado's strategy to diminish the spread of COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis took on a tangential topic: the prospect of federal troops being sent to the state to keep order in the wake of various protests. He made it clear that such assistance is neither needed nor wanted.
"Look, in the areas that they have sent troops in, it was obviously like putting oil on a flame," Polis said during his July 23 press conference. "It makes the situation worse. It escalates it. The way we would approach anything in Colorado would be to work to de-escalate rather than escalate. We want order rather than disorder. We want people to respect the law. We don't want people to be chaotic and fight with federal troops."
At the outset of his remarks, Polis casually dropped a big number: He said that so far today, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had recorded 616 new cases of the novel coronavirus. That figure represents a spike barely surpassed by the 627 positives registered on July 9 — the highest total since the 843 counted on April 29, when the pandemic was at its peak...so far.
From there, Polis moved into his main theme for the day: testing and contact tracing. He repeatedly said that the state is being forced to step up and develop its own processes as a result of the federal government lacking a comprehensive strategy in either area. National companies that had been able to turn around test results in one or two days are now taking as long as ten or twelve, he noted, rendering the results useless. As a result, Colorado is bringing in additional partners to increase its own testing capacity, in order to determine results much more quickly.
In this context, Polis touted an announcement by the University of Colorado that it has developed a saliva-based COVID-19 test that can produce findings in 45 minutes or so. Research is currently under way to determine the efficacy of this approach, he said, and if the technology scores well, it should be available in Colorado soon; an agreement with federal agencies should help cut through the usual red tape.
By Polis's estimate, the state is currently conducting over 10,000 virus tests per day, representing exponential growth from the 500 that were typical in April. This standard has been achieved thanks to the state's success at creating its own supply chain, which Polis said has resulted in enough of a surplus that schools will be provided with one medical-grade mask per week for each teacher and front-facing employee, even if the institution is initially focused on all-remote learning — the idea being that the masks can be stockpiled for when on-site instruction gets under way.
As for contact tracing, Polis said the CDPHE has been able to reach out to 96 percent of the individuals who test positive inside of 48 hours, with engagement and response calculated at 72 percent.
After encouraging Coloradans to socialize in small groups rather than throwing big parties at which dozens of people might become infected, Polis invited questions. Asked if he tolerates vandalism done to state buildings during the recent Black Lives Matter protests, he stressed, "I have zero tolerance for unlawful behavior, and I hope any perpetrators of unlawful behavior, whether it's defacing buildings or engaging in violence or crimes, are apprehended and charged."
Polis also said he would welcome the removal of tents from the State Capitol grounds, but admitted that his understanding of the current law in Denver related to urban camping isn't strong. "I don't follow Denver politics," he said.
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Asked about a request for a restraining order against his edict that any business with a license to sell alcohol end service at 10 p.m. for the next thirty days, Polis conceded that "it's a terrible temporary rule. People should be able to drink and enjoy their friends at all hours of the day." He added, however, that "mobility data from bars and tracking and tracing and where people are getting it, and some national data" convinced him that this action would prevent even more COVID-19 cases. "In a pandemic, it's less bad to stop at ten than be like other states, which have had to cut off restaurant dining," he maintained. He also suggested that if statistics show progress is being made within a few weeks, last call might be moved from ten o'clock to midnight.
Regarding the potential of outbreaks at schools that reopen, Polis left no doubt that he expects such issues to arise — and he expressed confidence that the state will have enough capacity to test impacted cohorts (small groups of students who learn together) or even entire institutions, if necessary. He noted that after an outbreak at a prison in Buena Vista, officials were able to surge to 1,200 tests in a one-to-two-day period.
Surges in camouflage-clad law enforcers under orders from the current occupant of the White House wouldn't be nearly as welcome. "The State of Colorado has not requested federal troops," Polis emphasized. If he believes that such forces have become necessary, he added, "I won't hesitate to call upon President Trump," but only if he determines that the Colorado National Guard, which has already been called up to help with the COVID-19 response, requires more assistance.
As Polis put it, "I would turn toward the National Guard before I would call for troops not under my command."