COVID-19: Polis on Convention Center Readying for 2,000 Patients

Colorado Governor Jared Polis donned a hard hat during his April 10 press conference.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis donned a hard hat during his April 10 press conference. Photo by Michael Roberts
At an April 10 press conference updating Coloradans on the fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis, wearing a hard hat, appeared outside the Colorado Convention Center, which is being readied to serve as a temporary medical facility for as many as 2,000 patients sickened by the novel coronavirus under what he described as a "realistic bad-case-scenario model."

Along the way, Polis offered a mid-day update of statistics related to the infection's spread prior to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's scheduled 4 p.m. data release, and the death toll is up by fifteen from the afternoon of April 9. Then, the fatality total was 226; at present, it's 241.

To illustrate that COVID-19 can take the life of Coloradans no matter their age, Polis made a specific reference to Cody Lyster, a 21-year-old baseball player at Colorado Mesa University who lived in Aurora; he passed away this week. He also mentioned thirteen-year-old Charlotte Figi, whom he called a brave advocate for medical cannabis; Figi is believed to have died as a result of the virus.

At the outset of his remarks, Polis talked about manning booths at convention centers while working for his family business, Blue Mountain Arts; he has strong memories of such facilities that go beyond the trade shows and events frequently staged there. But while most Denver residents think of the center as a place to peruse home-and-garden products, hot tubs or automobiles, Polis noted that the space is currently being reconfigured to accommodate patient care.

He predicted that the Army Corps of Engineers will have 300 beds built by April 18. The work began approximately 48 hours ago.

If Coloradans continue to stay at home as much as possible and wear masks when they leave their residences, Polis predicted, "we'll reach the day where once again you can come here for a fun comic or a Star Trek convention, or for work, to purchase goods you need as a retailer." However, he added, "we're not at that day now."

Then Polis went over the four-tier system being put in place to deal with the expected surge of COVID-19 sufferers.

Tier one is "critical-care capacity" at hospitals, he said, stressing that these medical operations are working hard to expand their number of intensive-care-unit beds. Tier two is for "acute-care patients who are being stepped down from critical care," often to places such as ambulatory surgical centers that might otherwise be specializing in the sort of elective surgery that's presently on hold.

As for tier three, "it's what we have here" at the Colorado Convention Center — a place for "sub-acute-care patients" who aren't ready to go home but no longer require critical care. "This is not a walk-up facility," he noted. Instead, the space is being prepped for patients who might still be contagious and could take a turn for the worse, which is why they'll be closely monitored by doctors and nurses. In the meantime, though, it will offer amenities such as showers and meals prepared by the food-service vendors who typically serve at events there.

And tier four? That's the designation for non-acute patients, asymptomatic individuals or people experiencing homelessness, who'll be housed in hotels, dorms, skilled nursing facilities and the like.

While up to 2,000 patients can fit into the center, Polis said he doubts that it will ever reach capacity. Yet he also doesn't think it will go entirely unused during the ongoing crisis. His best guess, he said, is that somewhere between dozens and hundreds of people will be treated and observed there, though his preference would be for it not to be needed at all.

During the press conference, Polis took the opportunity to tout a new website, Stay at Home Colorado, which will offer free services and features intended to make obeying his stay-at-home order, which runs through at least April 26, a little more tolerable. "It's your website," he said. "We're simply a forum to be able to help share your suggestions about what you can teach or do for free that benefits other Coloradans."
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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