Colorado Governor Jared Polis's November 13 press conference about COVID-19 contained plenty of terrifying data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including an astronomical new daily case count. But arguably his most chilling words were reserved for stressing the risks involved with intergenerational celebrations of Thanksgiving.
According to Polis, celebrants from different households who want to spend Thanksgiving together need to isolate themselves starting today in order to minimize the prospect of unwittingly transmitting the disease to vulnerable individuals. "For families who do want to get together and that's something you want to enjoy," he said, "the more family members who make the decision to self-quarantine, the more likely it is that you're not bringing a loaded pistol to Grandma's head."
Polis delivered much of the bad news related to COVID-19 in the first moments of his remarks. He pointed out that the state's positivity rate is over 11 percent — 5 percent is considered a red line by the World Health Organization — and that 1,159 Coloradans are currently hospitalized for treatment of the virus. But while he was proud this state tested more than 51,000 people in a single day, a new high point for that metric, the results were positive for 6,439 people. Mere months ago, daily positive case counts were in the low hundreds.
Current estimates show that one in every 110 Coloradans has COVID-19, and that ratio is much worse in several parts of the state, including the metro area: one of 58 in Adams County and one of 64 in Denver. These figures inspired Polis to liken social gatherings to Russian roulette. If a group anywhere in the state consists of eleven people, it's very likely that one of them is contagious, adding danger to any such get-together. "You wouldn't do it with a gun, and you shouldn't do it with the virus," he maintained.
"These are our darkest days as a nation, and they are our darkest days as a state," Polis added. "It's going to take all of us working together" to prevent greater illness and loss of life prior to the arrival of a vaccine, which he predicted would begin preliminary distribution in the state sometime in December, with greater availability in January and February of 2021.
In the meantime, the rising number of COVID-19 patients has prompted Polis to return the state's emergency operations center to Level 1, the most serious standard, and ready an executive order spelling out the procedure to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Such medical facilities will be asked to expand their capacity internally to get ready for a possible flood of COVID-19 patients and plan for a possible scaling-back of elective procedures; a moratorium on such surgeries like the one instituted earlier in the pandemic could be revisited, too. If the situation remains dire after that, Polis said, plans are in the works to open three alternative care sites in the state, including Denver's Colorado Convention Center and settings in Westminster and Pueblo. Hospitals will be required to provide the state with an outline for how they'll deal with what he called "their maximum surge bed count" by November 18.
On a related subject, Polis revealed plans to ramp up distribution of rapid tests for front-line workers, such as teachers and first responders, and open even more testing locations. He also celebrated a benchmark for the state's exposure notification system, available on iPhone and Android devices. More than a million people, representing 17 percent of the population, have opted in, and studies suggest that by doing so, Colorado will be able to reduce cases by 8 percent and deaths by 6 percent, he noted.
As for the upcoming holiday season, Polis gently hinted that members of families who are anti-maskers and consider the virus a hoax not be extended an invitation to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. However, he also said that if all the other participants self-quarantine, they effectively lower the risk for everyone.
In a question-and-answer session, Polis was again asked if he might have to issue another stay-at-home order because of the spiking stats, and he came closer than he has in the past to promising that such a move won't be made — no matter what.
"We have Thanksgiving coming up," he reiterated, adding that he's optimistic that people will make the right choices because of the love they have for those closest to them, as well as "the heavy weight that would be on the conscience of anyone who, with eyes wide open, might cause the loss of their parent or grandparent."
These feelings are "more powerful a force than anything that a state or a governor or the CDPHE or any local health authority could possibly say or do," he concluded. "That's the compelling reason I have confidence that the people of Colorado will make this a safe Thanksgiving."