Colorado public health officials to governor: Take tougher COVID measures
DENVER — Colorado’s local public health directors have implored Gov. Jared Polis to issue tougher measures to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus, including lockdowns in individual counties as needed.
The state’s metro public health directors and the president of the Colorado Association of Public Health Directors made the appeal in a Nov. 5 letter to Polis and the state health department that was obtained by Colorado Public Radio news.
“We are at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “Cases are increasing at an alarming rate. Contract tracing and investigation capacity is tapped. Hospitalization rates are at an all-time high since the pandemic began and are projected to exceed capacity by year’s end.”
Polis’ administration has adopted a color-coded scheme that increases social distancing and other restrictions as case counts mount or lessen in individual counties. Colorado Public Radio reported Tuesday that the local directors asked the governor to better enforce those measures and require counties to impose “stay at home” measures as needed.
Polis ordered a statewide lockdown in the spring as the pandemic spread in Colorado. He has resisted doing so again, in part because of the significant damage to businesses and workers who lose jobs. He has repeatedly urged pandemic-weary residents to avoid social gatherings, wear masks and practice other behaviors to stem virus transmission.
The governor prefers to let individual counties make the best choices for their residents but won’t hesitate to take statewide action “if there comes a time we could lose lives due to a lack of medical capacity,” his press secretary, Conor Cahill, told Colorado Public Radio.
Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties are under an “orange” level of restrictions, and all of them exceed Colorado’s threshold for the rate of new cases needed to move to a “red level” lockdown, according to state data. Factors in that threshold include are a two-week cumulative incidence rate of 350 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the number of hospitalizations.
At least 1,174 people were hospitalized on Monday with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, according to the state health department. The high of 1,277 patients was set in April. The seven-day average percentage of positive tests has reached nearly 11.5%, compared with 3.7% a month ago.
While local authorities can impose stay-at-home orders, “we think that that authority is more effective if it comes from the chief elected official in the state,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Public Health, told Colorado Public Radio. His department serves more than 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Without a new stimulus package from Congress, the decision whether to impose a lockdown is even more difficult, especially if it’s made by a non-elected local health official, Douglas said.
“I think all of my colleagues are getting weary of being the target of criticism, death threats, hostile comments,” Douglas said, adding that “nobody who makes this decision, by the way, is going to be popular. The governor’s not going to be popular if he makes it. We’re not going to be popular if we make it.”
COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Colorado has had more than 134,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. More than 2,100 residents have died, according to the state health department.
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