Commentary

Republicans and Polis failed to learn their lesson on COVID-19

Opponents of mask and vaccine mandates are as illogical as anti-vaxxers themselves

November 3, 2021 4:30 am

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In the fall of 2020, Gov. Jared Polis failed to enact statewide precautionary measures going into the holidays. Cases soared, and Colorado experienced its highest case, death and hospitalization rates of the pandemic to date.

This year, he’s doing it again. 

For Coloradans tracking the state’s progress — or rather, the lack thereof — it’s downright frustrating. Polis purports to lead by data, but he’s done no such thing as of late.

How we got here is anything but surprising. 

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In addition to Republicans touting their opposition to mask and vaccine mandates, Polis has largely followed suit. Despite the hard lessons of last year’s peak, he has doubled down on refusing statewide mask mandates, work-from-home orders, robust vaccine mandates or really most of the things that would help reduce cases. Instead, he sits back, says “please get vaccinated” and watches cases grow.

Polis’ failure to learn his lesson almost got missed. 

Although cases have remained high in Colorado for quite some time, they mostly flew under the radar as other states such as Florida and Texas utterly failed. This created the false impression that Colorado was doing better than it actually was and ultimately led Polis to claim the state was in the bottom 10 nationwide for COVID-19 cases.

That statement would ultimately backfire. Big time. A mere few weeks later, Polis is eating his words as other states subside and Colorado tops out as one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation. 

Some local counties, cities and businesses did attempt to mitigate the impacts with precautionary measures without the governor’s help, but it proved no match for statewide inaction. As Colorado’s hospitals become almost entirely overwhelmed — even more so than last year — there are now fewer than 10% of statewide hospital beds available due to the rapid influx of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. A complete system-wide failure is absolutely in the realm of possibility now.

Polis’ response? Incredibly, it still does not include a statewide mask mandate. Instead, he started by issuing an executive order to delay care to people seeking elective procedures.

At first glance this might seem benign — it’s elective after all, right?

False. 

The term “elective” is extremely misleading outside of medical context. In medical vernacular, elective does not mean optional. Elective means that you are able to schedule the procedure in advance, versus emergency care that is unexpected and performed in response to an imminent threat to your life. Accordingly, conditions treated with elective procedures can still threaten lives and deeply impact quality of life.

For example, in a perspective from the Annals of Surgery, some 91% of more than 21 million surgeries in 2014 were estimated to be medically defined as “elective,” yet the procedures can range from surgical interventions for cancerous growths to organ resections, coronary artery bypass grafts and paralyzed vocal chords. Postponing such care for even one month not only risks the health of the patient but creates further backlog and delays, all while compounding the subsequent cost of care as complications arise from delayed treatment. 

Having already come off a year and a half when many Coloradans have already postponed much needed health care, continuing to shove off inevitable conditions will absolutely worsen our collective health — all for the personal freedoms of the willingly unvaccinated.

Politically, the choice was simple: Promote mandates on masks and vaccines to preemptively keep cases lower, or let cases skyrocket and ultimately delay critical health care access for everyone. Apparently for Polis and Republicans, there’s more personal freedom to be lost in wearing a piece of cloth than in delaying an “elective” coronary artery bypass graft.

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Trish Zornio
Trish Zornio

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation's top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

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