During an October 12 press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock confirmed that COVID-19 numbers that have become more troubling across Colorado are impacting the Mile High City as well. And Denver Public Health & Environment executive director Bob McDonald warned that if those numbers keep getting worse, restrictions that have been loosened in recent months could be tightened again, with a shutdown of all but essential services among the possibilities.
"What could happen is that businesses of all types — gyms, your favorite salon, your favorite restaurant — could all be restricted, and we could all have to stay home," McDonald said. "Or we could have reduced capacities for a wide range of retailers. To avoid those things, we want to, at the local level, implement more public-health controls to double down on face coverings and physical distancing to the extent we can implement things, so we don't have those harsh economic impacts."
Hancock's tone at the outset was notably somber, as he talked about families challenged by the loss of loved ones and other disruptions in their lives. In an apparent allusion to President Donald Trump, who has downplayed the impact of the disease since contracting it, he stressed that "very few have access to the very best medical treatment in the world to manage the symptoms."
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The mayor acknowledged that "we're all tired of not being able to go out and do the things we want to do. We all want to go out to restaurants and spend time with our friends and families. I'm not immune to that." However, he continued, "we've reached a fork in the road.... Our case numbers are continuing to increase at a concerning rate, especially here in Denver," owing in part to rapid spread among college-age students.
According to Hancock, the seven-day average in Denver for daily COVID-19 cases is "above 127 right now," which is "as high it was at the height of the pandemic in May. And our positivity rate is between 4 and 4.5 [per 100,000 people] and has risen steadily over the last several weeks. Anything over five is going to mean a great deal of trouble." Moreover, during the week of October 3, the seven-day average for hospitalizations stood at 126, and just seven days later, the figure hit 174, a 37 percent increase.
These statistics are key, Hancock explained, because Denver is currently at Safer at Home, Level 2, under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial system — a standard that allows for increased capacity at restaurants and small businesses, and the opportunity to apply for variances in order to stage certain outdoor events. "If the numbers keep going in the direction they're going, we could be forced to go backwards to Level 3," he warned. "That means capacity in restaurants and businesses and even events or personal services get cut in half. And when so many businesses right now are struggling just to stay open, that would mean absolute devastation for businesses."
At the same time, Hancock said, children might be ordered to return to fulltime remote learning — a tremendous burden on parents who aren't able to work from home. The result would be "more job losses in our economy. So this is another make-or-break moment. That's the situation we find ourselves in, and our citizens and residents can't afford a setback."
McDonald reiterated this message, as well as Hancock's assertion that wearing facial coverings, practicing physical distancing and eschewing large gatherings are the best way to reverse the rise of COVID-19 numbers. He reminded viewers that face coverings have been scientifically proven to be effective, and urged everyone to wear them in public places. Likewise, he promoted influenza shots in order to prevent the health-care system from being hit by a viral double whammy.
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Next up was Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova, who said that the district's experiences since starting to reopen elementary schools to in-person instruction over recent weeks have been relatively positive. Nonetheless, the problematic COVID-19 stats have prompted conversations between DPS reps and officials at Denver Health, among others, about offering similar opportunities to middle school and high school students. The plan at present is to move forward as planned, but Cordova promised more clarity within the next day or two, following meetings with health-care pros and Denver Board of Education members.
In a brief question-and-answer session, McDonald discussed enforcement actions that have been taken against assorted sororities and fraternities under a public-health order aimed at colleges and universities.
And Hancock also addressed the weekend shooting near the Denver Art Museum following dueling demonstrations at Civic Center Park."We are still looking at the individual who is a suspect in the case [Matthew Dolloff], who was not in compliance with Denver licensing laws in regard to being licensed to a security company," he said.
As for protests in general, he continued, "We are not encouraging folks to come out and be a part of any large gathering at this point in time. It's too untenable in regard to COVID-19. But if marches take place, with demonstrations in our city, we encourage people to demonstrate safely, without violence, and exercise your First Amendment rights to do it with an eye toward keeping yourself and others safe. We will hold folks accountable for acting with violence and destruction in our community."