Polis on How Colorado Can Save Christmas From COVID-19 Spikes

A selfie of Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
A selfie of Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
During his November 9 press conference about the continuing fight against COVID-19 in Colorado, Governor Jared Polis was asked bluntly if he will figuratively, if not literally, cancel Christmas for residents of the state if spiking case counts collected by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment cannot be brought under control.

Polis took the question seriously — but he also ended with a flourish that would have done Jack Skellington proud.

"I'm hoping people are making plans for a safe Thanksgiving," he began. "If you want to have a Thanksgiving with Grandma, Grandpa, your aunt, your uncle, our best advice is to self-quarantine for ten days prior, and if you're exhibiting any symptoms, cancel those plans."

He added that there could be "very different epidemiological conditions by Christmas," but if Coloradans eliminate social interactions with those outside their household in the next couple of weeks, as he'd urged a few days back, "together, we can save Christmas."

To put the present scenario in perspective, Polis shared the latest CDPHE stats about the novel coronavirus's spread in the state: 3,553 newly reported cases and 1,060 hospitalizations, marking the third day in a row that the latter metric hit quadruple digits. "This is up from 150 hospitalizations two months ago," he pointed out, noting that COVID-19 "is extremely prevalent in Colorado right now. About one in 105 people are contagious." And because many of them don't know it, he added, socializing outside your immediate bubble carries the greatest danger of infection.

Polis did have good news: an announcement by Pfizer that a vaccine it's developing is reportedly showing 90 percent effectiveness — an extraordinarily high number that indicates the vaccine could squelch the virus if 70 to 80 percent of the American public takes it, he estimated. The company predicts that 50 million doses will be distributed by year's end, probably beginning in early December, which will likely translate to 100,000 to 200,000 in Colorado over that period, with 1.3 billion doses available in 2021, when it should be available to the wider public. If these predictions prove accurate, Polis continued, the pandemic could effectively be over by the middle of next year. (The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots about a month apart, then the passage of another month before it's fully effective, he divulged.) Polis equated the scenario to a marathon in which a runner is in the final mile or two.

Such marathoners are exhausted as the race nears its conclusion, Polis allowed, but the best ones are still able to muster a closing kick — and he believes Coloradans can execute such a sprint by eliminating social get-togethers with random folks, as well as doubling down when it comes to the wearing of masks in public, maintaining physical distancing, washing hands frequently and following other well-known safety procedures.

He did not rule out eating in restaurants, characterizing outdoor dining as relatively low-risk, and indoor dining a low- to medium-risk activity. But those risks increase when you eat with non-household members, Polis advised, since meals can often last an hour or more and diners won't be wearing a mask during that time.

As for masks, Polis announced that the statewide order calling for facial coverings to be worn in public places has been extended for another thirty days, and he's also ordered state agencies to assign as many employees as possible to work remotely rather than come into the office — encouraging private firms to do likewise.

Polis has ordered no new enforcement actions, however, and that became the subject of a subsequent question. While Polis tried to avoid it, he ultimate responded that "it's not about enforcement other than it's about the Grim Reaper, the ultimate enforcer. More Coloradans will die if Coloradans don't cancel their social plans and wear a mask in public."

He concluded by offering his thoughts and prayers to all of those who are currently fighting COVID-19, as well as to the friends, family and loved ones of the more than 2,000 people in the state who've succumbed to the disease. His final words: "Now's the time to buckle down."
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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