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Polis: Over 100,000 Coloradans Have COVID-19 Right Now

Governor Jared Polis during the April press conference when he first encouraged residents to wear masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Jared Polis during the April press conference when he first encouraged residents to wear masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.
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Governor Jared Polis, speaking during a November 20 press conference about the state's response to COVID-19, said that more than 100,000 residents have the virus right now, although many of them don't realize it. That breaks down to about one out of every 49 Coloradans, Polis added — and in some of the state's hottest spots, the odds are even worse.

"It's scary," Polis conceded. "I was shocked, too, when [state health officials] said one in 49.... It's extremely prevalent in our community. Literally, everybody you encounter could be contagious at this time."

When it comes to the virus, Colorado is the rule rather than the exception, he noted, as this state "sadly continues with the rest of the nation on the upward trend." Polis expressed hope, however, that stronger mitigation efforts being taken in places such as Denver that have moved to Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard will make a difference, particularly if the residents make recommended changes in behavior, such as not socializing with people outside their household and wearing facial coverings in public. He also stressed that upbeat news about the efficacy of multiple vaccines expected to be approved for distribution to front-line workers and members of vulnerable populations as soon as next month, with broader availability expected in the first quarter of 2021, shows that "the end is in sight...but it's still a long time from now until then."

Meanwhile, hospitals are already under strain in areas such as Mesa County, once a place where infections were rare, and Weld County, whose leaders have chafed at state safety directives since the start of the pandemic. According to Polis, Mesa County's medical system is already at full capacity, and in Weld County, there are "three ICU beds and zero regular beds" remaining, prompting the state to step in.

Shortly after teasing a special session of the state legislature slated to get under way on November 30 and once again beseeching the federal government to work in a bipartisan manner to approve new aid for states, counties and cities, Polis introduced two guests: Dr. Alan-Michael Vargas, based in Garfield County, and Marisa Duran, a health-care provider who likely contracted the virus on the job at Rifle's Grand River Health clinic. Both talked about the challenges presented by the virus and underscored the importance of making safe choices for those who live in rural areas as well as individuals residing in larger population centers.

Stricter protocols are unpopular in such counties. During the press conference, a Grand Junction reporter revealed that a protest had taken place earlier today at the offices of Mesa County Public Health over the Level Red designation imposed on that county by the CDPHE, and the Weld County commissioners have issued a statement essentially saying they plan to ignore the state's mandate.

Still, Polis defended his policy of leaving most safety decisions to counties unless or until hospital capacity issues reach a critical juncture — at which point state officials will take action, he said.

Along the way, Polis shared the latest figures from the CDPHE, revealing that Colorado again recorded more than 6,000 positive diagnoses of the novel coronavirus in a single day and has a positivity rate hovering at just over 12 percent — not as bad as in some places in the U.S., but still alarming. The issue becomes even more complex given that around 50 percent of infected individuals in their twenties and thirties, and approximately 40 percent of those representing older demographics, are asymptomatic but can still spread the virus.

While some Colorado counties have more cases per capita than others, Polis emphasized that "the virus is a major threat everywhere right now, and especially in the Rocky Mountain West and Midwest. That includes every county in the state, whether it's at one in forty people infected or one in 110. It's out there, and there's community spread."

As for the changing standards for Level Red and the introduction of a new dial position, Level Purple, Polis attempted to cut through the confusion.

"It's simple, folks," he said. "It's not about red or purple or orange. It's about people individually making the right decisions. ... From Greeley to Grand Junction and from Trinidad to Mead, this is what we need to do better at than we're doing now. All of these public-policy directives are a small piece. The biggest things are your individual decisions."

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