Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday wished President Donald Trump a full recovery from his coronavirus infection, and said the outbreak of cases at the White House shows why mask-wearing and social distancing are so important.
During a visit to the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley, Polis opened a briefing with reporters by saying: “I want to express on behalf of Colorado our wishes for all those associated with the COVID breakout in the White House to have a full recovery, including, of course, the president, his wife and all of those affected. We also wish a speedy recovery for everyone affected by COVID across the world.”
But Polis also said the president’s illness should serve as a warning to Coloradans, as cases across the state rise once more. On Thursday, 200 people with confirmed COVID-19 illness were in Colorado hospitals, the most since early August. The number of new cases of infection reported to the state last week — 4,284 — was the highest one-week number recorded in Colorado during the pandemic.
The recent rise in cases has been largely driven by young people — nearly two-thirds of cases last week were among people under the age of 40 and more than a quarter of cases were among people under the age of 20. But the rising number of hospitalizations shows that those infections can have severe consequences for the state as a whole, even if younger people are generally seen as less at risk for severe illness.
“It truly does not pick favorites,” Polis said of the virus.
One positive from the White House outbreak, Polis said, is that it was caught early through the extensive testing program there. The governor encouraged Coloradans to get tested if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 — and even if they think it is possible those symptoms are caused by seasonal allergies or wildfire smoke. The state has more than 50 community testing locations that offer free tests, in addition to numerous hospitals, clinics and medical offices that also offer testing.
“You need to know,” Polis said. “Early identification saves lives — it could be your family or friends or coworkers.”
But Polis said Trump’s infection shows that testing, alone, is not enough. The president and his senior staff frequently shunned mask-wearing during events and also attended several crowded rallies indoors. Aides to Trump frequently excused the violations of public health guidance by saying that the president and those around him were tested regularly for the virus.
“I think the White House didn’t have strong enough precautions around mask-wearing and social distancing,” Polis said. “We want better than that for you and for me, and that’s why so many Colorado workplaces are really integrating social distancing, telecommuting and mask-wearing into everything that they do. We all don’t have the luxury of the same level of testing that the White House has had … but I think one thing this demonstrates very clearly is that, while testing is very important, testing alone is not the answer.”
Polis said he has been tested for coronavirus eight or nine times since the pandemic began. Now that testing is more widely available, Polis said he and the team around him are aiming to be tested once per week.
But Polis said he has made much bigger changes to his routine to promote social distancing. He said many of his meetings have moved online and those that take place in person are done outside as much as possible, with chairs spaced apart. He said his office’s guidelines call for mask-wearing indoors.
When Polis spoke with reporters Friday, he removed his mask, but the three state officials flanking him — at a distance — all wore masks. When one of them spoke, Polis put his mask back on.
“We are using the very best science to guide me in being able to do my job in a reasonably safe way,” Polis said.
He also said he believes the pandemic is more than halfway over, so long as vaccine candidates under development continue to show promising results in clinical trials. Polis said it is possible the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine could be available for health care workers in Colorado by November or December. Doses for the general population may follow a few months behind that, though independent experts caution that it might be next summer before enough vaccines have been through testing and are manufactured for everyone to have access to one.
Polis encouraged Coloradans to not let their guard down and allow the virus’ upward trajectory in the state to shoot higher.
“We need to really bear down here, Colorado,” Polis said. “… Let’s be safe. Let’s get through this.”