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Polis on COVID-19 Spike: Cancel Social Plans or More People Will Die

Governor Jared Polis during a recent press conference introducing Fishers Peak State Park.
Governor Jared Polis during a recent press conference introducing Fishers Peak State Park.
colorado.gov via YouTube

In their most somber press conference focusing on COVID-19 in months, Governor Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy spoke in admittedly grim terms about new highs in cases and hospitalizations, including outbreaks of the novel coronavirus that have quadrupled in number in mere weeks. To that end, the pair encouraged Coloradans to redouble efforts to follow internationally recommended safety protocols, led by reducing interactions with others and avoiding get-togethers with folks from other households.

"Colorado, I love you: This is an intervention," Polis said at one point. "Cancel your social plans over the next few weeks."

Even if residents follow this advice, though, Herlihy conceded that plenty of damage has already been done. "We do anticipate that death counts will increase in the next days to weeks," she said, adding that the number of fatalities will only grow if officials' advice goes unheeded.

Polis suggested that the run-up to the November 3 election (he congratulated Coloradans on a record turnout) and dangerous wildfires in the state may have led people to lose focus when it comes to virus prevention and protection — and the impact of this inattention has been devastating.

Polis revealed that Colorado now has documented more than 121,000 COVID-19 cases, including 3,369 on November 4 — a new daily high, although recent days have regularly seen counts in excess of 2,000. The number of people currently hospitalized for the disease in Colorado stands at 894, which is also a new record, jumping past the marks set in March and April. As a result, hospital capacity is once again at risk.

The situation is extremely fluid, as exemplified by a new public-service announcement in which Herlihy encourages viewers to follow three basic pieces of advice: interact only with members of your own household, maintain physical distance from others, and wear a mask whenever you're around someone else. In the text, Herlihy states that cases and hospitalizations are nearing record levels — when in fact those peaks have now been surpassed. While the spot maintains that one in every 145 Coloradans is contagious with the novel coronavirus, the range has shrunk to one of every 100.

"That was only recorded a few days ago," Polis divulged after screening the clip. "It's already outdated."

During her presentation, Herlihy shared graphics showing the three waves of the infection in Colorado and stated, "We believe there's more COVID-19 circulating in Colorado than there has been since the beginning of the pandemic." In addition, the demographics of the disease are changing. A month or so ago, young Coloradans who were less likely to be hospitalized represented the largest category, but that's now shifted to folks between forty and 64 who are more apt to need serious medical care, straining the health-care system. Herlihy shared predictive modeling showing that hospitals will hit their capacity by the end of December if the situation stays the same — and if it gets worse, the crisis point will be reached even sooner, necessitating more extreme measures, including the possibility that alternative care sites such as the Colorado Convention Center may need to be reopened. Such locations would take in people with less serious needs so that their hospital beds could be used for ICU purposes.

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"We are heading in the wrong direction," Herlihy warned — and at the worst time possible. Colorado has seen COVID-19 spikes after holidays such as Independence Day and Labor Day, and she thinks another could stem from Halloween. With Thanksgiving and the Christmas season looming and weather changing in ways that will move most celebrations indoors, where the virus can be transmitted more easily, the odds of even worse outcomes are high.

To that end, Polis said that Coloradans should look at commemorating Thanksgiving in person only with household members, and incorporating other relatives using Zoom or assorted technological applications.

After the prepared remarks, the first question involved the prospect of a statewide stay-at-home order. Polis contended that no one is talking about such a move right now, and defended an approach tailored to specific counties such as Denver and Adams, which have moved to Level Orange (High Risk) on the state's dial system; Boulder, Jefferson and Summit counties were recently shifted to this level, too. And while he rejected the concept of a travel ban or a quarantine requirement for visitors, he encouraged everyone to treat each person with whom they interact as if they might be infected — whether they're from Chicago or Aurora. If they don't, he admitted, a deterioration along the lines of what New York and New Jersey experienced this past spring is well within the realm of possibility.

"It's a wake-up call," Polis concluded. "Let's show the resolve that we're better than this virus. We know we've been distracted. Let's show the grit we need to bear down, cancel our social plans, avoid interacting with others, reduce the number of people you see — and together we'll get through this."

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