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Governor Jared Polis during a September press conference in Fort Morgan.
Governor Jared Polis during a September press conference in Fort Morgan.
colorado.gov

COVID-19: Polis Worries College Spikes Could Put Everyone at Risk

During a September 15 press conference about the continuing struggle against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis acknowledged that the positivity rate for disease incidence is on the rise in Colorado after a long period of stable or declining digits, with most of the increases linked to college students. If this situation isn't brought under control quickly, he warned, the risk of wider community spread will go up as well.

"Some of those early warning signs are starting to be seen, and we're a little worried by an uptick in numbers," Polis said, adding that many students at local universities "have part-time jobs in restaurants and retail where they interact with other members of the community," including many people in more vulnerable demographic categories for whom an infection could lead to hospitalization or even death.

Updates offered by Polis: 62,099 positive cases, including 400 new positives on September 15, which is higher than most recent daily tallies. The number of new cases has been down in just six of the past fourteen days, while hospitalizations have dipped on eight days over the same period — though that's a lagging statistic, given the amount of time between the average person contracting the novel coronavirus and becoming ill enough that admission to a medical facility becomes necessary. Colorado has now topped 1,900 deaths related to COVID-19: Polis cited 1,905 deaths due directly to the virus, out of 1,966 fatalities for people with the malady.

After expressing condolences on behalf of the state, Polis introduced Dr. Rachel Herlihy of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who confirmed that there's been a slight bump in COVID-19 cases statewide over the past two weeks along with a parallel boost in the positivity rate, which has been consistently over one recently, after spending a month or more at or below that mark. The reproductive value corresponds to the number of people infected by each person with the virus, and a rise above one increases the possibility of greater spread.

The age divisions seeing the biggest leaps are 10- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 22-year-olds, Herlihy noted, adding that college freshmen and sophomores really stand out. There's been a "substantial increase of outbreaks in those groups," she said, with six reported to the state within the past seven days or so, and she thinks that number could double by week's end based on the number currently under investigation.

Another concern: Social distancing is decreasing in Colorado. Right now, officials calculate it at 65 percent, a slide from the 75 to 80 percent practiced mere weeks ago. If social distancing continues to fall, Herlihy warned, "we could see additional stress on the health-care system."

The news wasn't all bad. Polis praised two new counties, Gunnison and Moffat, for joining Gilpin, Mesa and Rio Blanco in the so-called Protect Our Neighbors phase of the current safety protocols — the last step anticipated prior to the pandemic's end, in which local authorities are put entirely in charge of developing measures to prevent COVID-19 from running rampant in their jurisdictions. He says he looks forward to the day when all 64 Colorado counties have similar opportunities.

At the same time, Polis made it clear that continued testing is important when it comes to keeping Colorado's positivity rate low. He pushed back against social media users encouraging others not to find out if they're infected in order to prevent their friends and family from being subjected to the questions of contact tracers. He reminded residents that more testing means more cases are found early, preventing greater viral circulation throughout the community, which could endanger the economic progress the state has made over the six months-plus since COVID-19's presence was confirmed here.

In a Q&A, Polis denied that a certain level of cases at schools such as CU Boulder and Colorado State University would trigger the state to pressure them to move to completely online instruction. Yet he conceded that if the disease can't be isolated to individual dormitories and gains a foothold campus-wide, such a move remains very much in the realm of possibility. Polis also talked up a new color-coded online dial system designed to help those living across the state know how their county is doing in the COVID-19 fight on a moment-to-moment basis.

As for how he's doing with Coloradans, Polis shrugged off the latest recall attempt against him.

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