Polis Acknowledges Fourth COVID Wave Amid Mixed Messages

A physical-distancing-free photo of Governor Jared Polis embracing Colorado Rockies mascot Dinger.
A physical-distancing-free photo of Governor Jared Polis embracing Colorado Rockies mascot Dinger.
During an April 9 press conference, after several weeks of downplaying rising concerns about COVID-19 in Colorado, Governor Jared Polis acknowledged that the state and the country as a whole are experiencing a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus — one powered by variants now associated with the majority of new infections. But at the same time, he's not pulling back on handing control over safety protocols to local municipalities as of April 16, even though it's likely many of them will further loosen regulations or perhaps dispense with them entirely.

Places such as Weld County, whose commissioners have consistently decried virus-related restrictions, and Custer County, where every member of the health board came down with COVID-19 after they ditched state rules entirely, exemplify an eagerness to get back to business as normal immediately, if not sooner. Yet Polis insisted, "We have full confidence that our local public-health agencies, cities and counties will continue to be the most effective messengers" when it comes to fighting COVID-19 in their specific jurisdictions.

Of course, Polis is known for his optimism, even in the face of negative circumstances, and he exhibited this characteristic despite the downbeat statistics, including hospitalizations that are now back over 400 after dipping below 300 just a few weeks ago, and a daily new case count of 1,935, the highest it's been in months. Hence he repeatedly contended that the fourth wave would also be the "final wave" — though on one occasion he added, "Knock on wood."

Because of the problematic increases, Polis encouraged everyone who's not been vaccinated yet to do so as soon as they can, and to wear masks, engage in social distancing, and avoid large gatherings until two weeks after their last jab. He also urged unvaccinated folks who want to see others who are similarly situated to take advantage of the spring weather and assemble outside, where odds of infection are lower.

Polis introduced a pair of speakers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France and Incident Commander Scott Bookman. France discussed the brief shutdown of the large-scale vaccination site at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this week after eleven people had troubling reactions to inoculations; after investigation, he said, experts determined that their dizziness and lightheadedness were probably attributable to anxiety, dehydration and other minor concerns rather than a bad batch of medicine. For his part, Bookman talked up Colorado's success at obtaining and stockpiling personal protective equipment and the like after dealing with shortages early in the pandemic.

A third speaker, Colorado lead epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, had tougher information to share in regard to COVID-19 variants. Officials have now tracked 1,472 cases of the U.K. variant, 24 cases of the South African variant, 488 cases of the California variant, and twelve cases of the Brazilian variant, whose presence was first confirmed in recent days. At this point, 43.4 percent of new diagnoses involve the U.K. variant, and more than 18 percent involve the California variant, translating to well over half of the state's current total. Moreover, all of the variants are more transmissible than the original version and may cause more severe symptoms, though Herlihy conceded that the evidence about the latter isn't completely firm at present.

Next, she displayed graphics showing that cases among people older than age fifty have plateaued — evidence that the vaccine is working. Unfortunately, infections of the 18-50 demographic have jumped and are contributing to climbing hospitalizations. To fight against this trend, Herlihy repeated Polis's advice that people get vaccinated ASAP and keep wearing facial coverings  until they're fully protected.

After announcing a new program to make free COVID-19 test kits available to all front-facing employees and screening a video from "Power the Comeback," a forthcoming public-relations campaign intended to combat vaccine hesitancy, Polis took questions.

Many of the subsequent inquiries pressed the governor on the matter of cutting back on statewide safety mandates even as the disease's curve is turning in the wrong direction again. But he stayed on message, defending the hand-over to local leaders while stressing that extra care must be taken to make sure the fourth wave doesn't cause Colorado's economy to again crash.
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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