COVID-19 hospitalizations ‘alarming,’ but statewide shutdowns unlikely

Gov. Polis has harsh words for President Trump on COVID-19

Gov. Jared Polis gives an update on the extent of the coronavirus pandemic and the extent of the state's wildfires on Aug. 18, 2020. (Moe Clark, Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy on Oct. 6 warned Coloradans about worrying trends in daily new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Colorado saw a decrease of about 13% in the average number of daily new cases for the week ending Oct. 4. However, much of that decrease came from the 18- to 25-year-old age group, Herlihy said, likely a result of strict mitigation measures taken by Boulder County Public Health and the University at Colorado Boulder after a large outbreak among the student community in September.

Excluding 18- to 25-year-olds, Herlihy said, the number of daily new cases has plateaued, rather than decreased, since early September.

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“This is a concerning trend for us, that we haven’t seen a decrease from what we believe was a Labor Day spike that we experienced,” Herlihy said. “We continue to see a plateau in these age groups, and we’re now … starting to see this translate into pretty substantial increases in hospitalizations in the state.”

Their remarks came during a news briefing about the state’s response to COVID-19.

The number of people hospitalized for confirmed COVID-19 in Colorado is the highest it’s been since July 28.

As of Oct. 6, 246 patients were hospitalized with confirmed cases, and 97 for suspected cases of COVID-19. According to CDPHE, 3% of hospitals expect shortages of intensive care unit beds within the next week.

“That number isn’t alarming,” Polis said. “It’s well within our capacity. What’s alarming is that it’s increased substantially.”

The number of people hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 increased 66% between Sept. 22 and Oct. 6 — from 148 to 246.

But Polis suggested he believed the state could get through the outbreak without any statewide “shutdowns” like those seen in the early days of the pandemic.

“We did this before — we can do it again,” he said. “We saw this after July. There was no shutdown, there were no closures, but people started behaving more responsibly: wearing masks more, avoiding large gatherings. And sure enough, we stopped that trend.”

Later, in response to a reporter’s questions, he pointed to a new framework for more targeted surveillance of the virus’ spread as a way to avoid those statewide shutdown measures.

“The plan is to really address capacity regionally,” Polis said.

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment implemented a “dial” framework for determining different levels of restrictions for counties based on their rates of new cases, hospitalizations and test positivity.

Since then, no counties have moved to a level with harsher restrictions than the level they were assigned in mid-September. According to a CDPHE spokesperson, Archuleta, La Plata, Montrose and Prowers counties have moved from Level 2 to Level 1. Level 1 has more relaxed restrictions than Level 2.

Polis has harsher (than usual) words for Trump

Polis, who usually doesn’t directly criticize the White House during briefings — unless prompted by reporters’ questions — also spent a considerable portion of the virtual news conference pushing back against President Donald Trump’s messaging on COVID-19.

Trump, whose diagnosis was announced Oct. 2, spent the weekend in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before returning to the White House the evening of Oct. 5.

“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!” Trump tweeted that day. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs and knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

Trump was also filmed removing his mask after arriving at the White House, an action that drew criticism from the medical community.

While Polis said Trump had the right instinct in broadcasting a message not to “fear” the coronavirus, he said the president’s attitude implied recklessness, not caution.

“It’s been challenging to watch the way that the White House has been handling this on a personal level,” Polis said in regard to Trump’s illness. “The president, when he wants things to happen, he doesn’t really understand how to do it in the right way.”

As an example, Polis said, Trump tried to “bully people to go back to school.”

“We all want kids to be back in school,” he said. “But rather than have a plan to do it safely … (he said) ‘You have to return, you have to return,’ without actually helping the states or school districts to return with the (personal protective equipment) we need, with the testing that we need.”

“Like a lot of things, the president is taking this in a wrong and divisive direction with regard to his counsel and what he’s advising people to do,” Polis added.

Later, Polis said the president should have used his illness as a moment to advocate for precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

“The president shoots from the gut,” Polis said. “His gut on not being scared or fearful is the right concept, but then he takes it the wrong direction … He should be messaging, don’t be fearful — be cautious and careful — and let’s get on with our lives.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the COVID-19 hospitalization numbers from CDPHE’s website. The original version included a quote from Polis in which he cited a number of hospitalizations on Sept. 24 that was different from official state data.