Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday sent a clear message to Coloradans that they will have to endure measures to limit their movement for many months to come, though to a lesser degree, in order to keep the new coronavirus from spreading out of control.
“We want to dispel any notion that we can go back to the way things were,” Polis said.
The governor laid out a multipronged approach to keep coronavirus from infecting too many people, including increased testing, tailored social-distancing measures, a reinforced health care system and a bolstering of state epidemiological resources.
He said large public gatherings will be banned until further notice, and bars and restaurants won’t operate as they used to when they begin to reopen.
He said that the stay-at-home order currently in effect until April 26 — during what he describes as an “urgent” phase of the disease — isn’t sustainable. But that things will have to gradually move toward a new normal.
“I wish that relaxing restrictions was like turning a light switch on and off,” Polis said during a briefing with reporters at the governor’s mansion.
Instead, he said, altering restrictions on Coloradans’ movement will be more like using a dimmer to change the levels on a light.
The plans are set to be deployed once Polis’ stay-at-home order expires. The governor has said that his April 26 timeline could be moved.
Right now, Polis said, the state is experiencing a plateau in new coronavirus cases. “It needs to be a decline,” he said. “We hope it’s a decline.”
The next five or so days will indicate whether that decline is occurring, Polis said, as the effects of the stay-at-home order issued in late March are borne out.
“Coronavirus is going to be part of our lives,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with it.”
As of Wednesday afternoon there were 8,280 confirmed cases of the virus in Colorado. At least 357 people have died.
More than 1,630 of the patients with confirmed cases have been or are hospitalized.
The Colorado Hospital Association reported on Wednesday that about 500 people who were hospitalized because of the virus have been released since Sunday. UCHealth alone reported that it has released 370 patients from its hospitals since they began receiving coronavirus patients.
Why not keep the stay-at-home order in place?
Polis said that keeping his stay-at-home order in place for a much longer period of time, even though it appears to be working to slow the spread of the virus, is not sustainable.
“Our goal is to figure out how we can have a sustainable way of not overwhelming our health care system,” He said. “… The challenge is how do we create a sustainable way to live for the many months that the virus will be with us. The answer is not staying at home for many months. It’s not possible economically — people need to support themselves. It’s not possibly psychologically. Humans are social animals.”
The governor conceded that people will be hospitalized and die from the virus in the coming weeks and months. But he said that’s inevitable because there’s no way to eliminate COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the U.S.
“That’s not America’s goal. It can’t possibly be Colorado’s goal because we don’t control who moves here across other states,” he said. “If somehow we had severe policies that eliminated the virus from Colorado we’d be reinfected the next day by somebody who was visiting from another state.”
The governor said he is working with officials in states bordering Colorado on plans to work together to limit coronavirus’ spread and also share resources.
The governor said restrictions will have to be in place as long as there isn’t a coronavirus vaccine, a proven, effective treatment, or so many people have been sickened that “herd immunity” has been reached.
Polis was asked about people who have called his coronavirus restrictions tyrannical and even compared them to Nazism.
“As a Jewish American who lost family in the Holocaust, I’m offended by any comparison to Nazism,” he said, tearing up and choking back emotion. “We act to save lives — the exact opposite of the slaughter of 6 million Jews and many Gypsies and Catholics, gays and lesbians and Russians and so many others. That being said, we know that these steps are difficult.”
He added: “It’s not a contest to see what you can get away with. It’s a contest to see how well you can stay at home.”