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Politics and Government

What we know and don’t know about the coronavirus infections of Colorado’s governor and his partner

Marlon Reis, the first gentleman, was taken to a hospital on Sunday night by Gov. Jared Polis after experiencing shortness of breath and a worsening cough

Gov.-elect Jared Polis stands for the colors with his partner, Marlon Reis, during his inauguration at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Pool)
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Marlon Reis, the partner of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, remains hospitalized Monday with the coronavirus after being admitted over the weekend.

Reis, 39, was taken to a hospital by Polis on Sunday after suffering from shortness of breath and a worsening cough, symptoms that developed eight days after testing positive for COVID-19. The governor, who also has coronavirus, has had only minor symptoms and is doing well, according to his office.

Just 48 hours before Reis was taken to a hospital, the governor’s office said Reis and Polis were experiencing mild symptoms, recovering and planning to resume in-person activities on Wednesday. 

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The abrupt shift came as a surprise, but it highlights how little is known about the condition of Polis and Reis, the first gentleman, since they tested positive on Nov. 28. It also shows how quickly the condition of people who have the disease can deteriorate.

The lack of in-depth disclosure comes as elected officials across the nation face increased scrutiny about coronavirus-related public mandates and whether they are abiding by their own rules. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock faced questions about whether he should resign after traveling at Thanksgiving despite asking residents to not do the same.

Polis is one of at least six governors to test positive for the coronavirus. More than a dozen have taken additional precautions after members of their staff or relatives have caught the disease.

The governor’s office has cited federal health privacy laws, which protect patients’ personal health information and medical records as the reason for the lack of detail. But the office hasn’t explained why they won’t release additional details that aren’t protected under the law, such as how Polis and individuals within the office might have contracted the coronavirus.

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Health privacy laws generally apply to companies that retain information about patients — such as health providers, government agencies and insurance companies — and don’t impede individuals from volunteering information about their medical condition. 

“We want to be respectful of their privacy and also due to (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, we can’t discuss more details,” Conor Cahill, Polis’ spokesman, said of the staffers around Polis who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to the disease. “Of the course of this pandemic, members of the governor’s office and the governor’s cabinet have had COVID, just as an estimated 1 in 6 Coloradans have. The governor and first gentleman will continue to provide transparency and updates on their own health and respect the privacy of others.”

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

What we know about the governor’s positive test and condition 

Polis announced Nov. 25 that he was “exposed to an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

The governor’s office told The Colorado Sun that Polis was likely exposed to the coronavirus by a state employee who tested positive. A second staff member was said to be quarantining.

Polis said he received a negative test result after the Nov. 25 exposure but began to quarantine at home per federal and state guidelines.

Three days later, Polis and Reis tested positive for COVID-19. The governor announced the news shortly after he learned of the results the evening of Nov. 28. He reported that he and Reis were asymptomatic and “feeling well.”

On Dec. 1, Polis said he and Reis were experiencing “very mild symptoms.”

The governor’s office issued a statement just before 6 p.m. Friday that said the two men remained in good spirits and suffered only “mild symptoms in the form of lack of sleep and minor headaches.” The statement said Polis and Reis expected to resume in-person activities on or around Wednesday.

But just before 6 p.m. Sunday, the governor’s office announced Reis’ worsening condition. The governor wrote on Twitter that he drove Reis to a hospital because Reis experienced a “slightly worsening cough and shortness of breath” over the prior 24 hours.

Marlon Reis attends a news conference on voting in October 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“Saturday night into Sunday (Reis) experienced shortness of breath and worsening cough and the family doctor advised that he should be monitored and treated at a hospital,” Cahill said Monday, providing more details to The Sun.

Reis has received dexamethasone, a steroid, and remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug. He has not required oxygen, according to a statement from Cahill on Monday. The first gentleman’s oxygen saturation numbers “are normal,” Cahill added.

Cahill called Reis’ hospitalization a precautionary move. In a statement Monday night, the governor’s office said Reis is in good spirits and looks forward to returning home.

Cahill said that Polis, as of Monday, does not have any symptoms. Polis has only been taking baby aspirin on the advice of his doctors. 

“He will continue to work remotely until he is no longer contagious and is cleared by doctors to be around others,” Cahill said of Polis.

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What we don’t know about COVID-19 in the governor’s office

The details about how the governor first became infected remain unclear.

The governor’s office declined to provide information about the employee who is believed to have exposed the governor, such as their proximity to the governor, citing federal health privacy laws.

Polis has advocated for strict adherence to public health guidelines — including remote working, physical distancing and mask wearing — which the governor has said his office adheres to as much as possible. But it’s not known whether he or his staff broke their own protocols.

The governor’s office did not respond to a question about whether Polis was wearing a mask when he was around the employee who tested positive.

Under state guidelines, an outbreak is defined as two or people at a workplace or event who don’t live in the same household and who test positive for COVID-19 within a two-week period. Cahill has dismissed the suggestion that an outbreak exists in Polis’ office, but did not provide an explanation though there have been two cases tied to the governor’s office.

The governor’s office has not said whether the second staff member who was quarantining has tested positive for COVID-19. 

It’s also not known if there are others in the governor’s office who may have been exposed to the virus — either by the governor or the employee who tested positive. 

As for Reis, the governor’s office has not said at which hospital he is being treated. 

The governor’s office also did not say whether the Polis and Reis’ two young children have tested positive for coronavirus.


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