“What we are seeing from the projections and the data is that we actually expect things to get better, not worse,” Polis said. “There are states, and there are countries that are two to three weeks ahead of where we are. We watch every day. And we extrapolate where we expect Colorado to go … omicron burns through rapidly — it leads to a quicker, higher peak, and then a slope down that they’re already experiencing in the cities and states that are two to three weeks ahead of us. So we are, we’ve already seen a stabilization of the positivity rate.”
Polis does not plan to enact any statewide mask mandate and prefers to leave that to local authorities. However, the state promised to provide free medical-grade KN95 Masks for Coloradans.
This interview was edited for clarity, length, and clarity.
Ryan Warner: Governor, thank-you for being here again.
Gov. Jared Polis says: Ryan, it’s great seeing you. It’s been a while since you’ve seen me in person.
Warner: We have tested and are now sitting at a large round table at your Capitol office. In our last interviewYou told us on December 10th that when it comes down to the pandemic, the medical crisis is over. Since we spoke, omicron is hard at work, hospitalizations are close to the all-time peak. Not only are emergency standards of care in effect for healthcare staffing but also for emergency medical services.Think of ambulances and doctors. Do you still believe the medical emergency is over
Gov. Polis: It’s okay. And it’s important to discuss what I said. You may recall that in the early days after the pandemic of 2020, there was a crisis. We didn’t have gloves, masks, or equipment. Even in hospitals, everyone had to use the same mask for at least a week. We had to fight for every ventilator.
There is plenty of supply. We have enough capacity. We’ve been in the 90 to 93 percent capacity — that’s not where the hospital system normally is, to be clear. Normally, it’s closer than 80 percent. [Right now,]About 20% of people in hospitals are there to treat COVID. Around 80 percent are there to treat something else.
Omicron is more common, but thankfully less severe. If you aren’t vaccinated, it can still be dangerous and may require hospitalization. If you are vaccinated, however, it is possible to catch it. It usually doesn’t require hospitalization and does not pose a threat to your life.
Warner: You seem calm when it is about the hospital situation. It’s not the alarm that emergency doctors are sounding. The American College of Emergency Physicians Colorado Chapter has informed you that we are at breaking points. We are currently facing conditions that have never been experienced in this state. They are asking you to activate crisis standard for hospitals against this backdrop. These will offer certain protections to doctors who must triage and possibly unlock federal money to address staff shortages. Will you declare these crisis standards for hospitals
Gov. Polis: Ryan, first of all, everyone is exhausted. Health care workers are, of course, the first and most important. They have been affected, but what do you know? It’s been tough on teachers. It’s been difficult for grocery store workers. It’s been difficult for every Coloradan.
As governor, it’s something I can sympathize fully with. One of our legislative proposals is to eliminate the licensing fees for nurses and mental health professionals so that they don’t have to pay for their licenses to be current. As a small gesture of appreciation, we will grant their license to practice for one year.
Warner: To be clear, at this moment you don’t have any plans to activate crisis care standards for hospitals.
Gov. Polis: Ryan, you need to see how it’s done. There is a committee called GEEERC, and our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France. I have never approved or counteracted to anything he has requested. This is not the type of thing the chief medical officers of the state are looking for.
Warner: Dr. Ricky Dhaliwal, who is President of the Colorado Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians said, “We are in a crisis, and the thing about it is that this is a crisis that’s now, and it’s about to get worse. The wait and see approach — just, I don’t think is a smart way to do this in this situation.” There seems to be a gap between what you think healthcare workers need right now and what they think they need right now. How can you bridge this gap?
Gov. Polis: If things get worse, he is right. That’s his assumption.
Warner: I believe he is also anticipating burnout in the months ahead.
Gov. Polis: To be clear, we see from the projections that things will improve. Omicron shows that there are countries and states that are two to three week ahead of us. We monitor the state every day and extrapolate where Colorado will go. Three weeks ahead of us is South Africa, London, and the east coast of our country, 7-10 days ahead of we.
We see that Omicron is contagious in all these cases. It leads to a faster, higher peak and then a slope downward that they are already experiencing in cities and states two to three weeks ahead.
Already, we have seen a stabilization in the positivity rate. Already, we have seen a stabilization. This means that the hospital count has not increased in the last few days. It remained relatively stable.
The best answer I can offer is God forbid, if [Dhaliwal]It’s worse than it looks, and Dr. France will likely push for the measures he mentioned. If the projections we see are correct, and that the peak occurs in the next week or two, then it’s unlikely that these types of measures will be required.
Warner: In a letter to the physician’s group, they state that there is a shortage of rapid testing and that patients who are not seriously ill or very ill are coming to the emergency room. They say this adds stress to patients and exposes them to potentially deadly diseases. How do you address the lack of rapid testing?
Gov. Polis: Let me address that squarely, but there are actually two things. First, no test is necessary. If you’re not very ill or not in serious pain, you shouldn’t go to an emergency room. I don’t care if it’s COVID. If you have mild cold-like symptoms, don’t go the emergency room. If your condition becomes more severe and you have difficulty breathing, then our healthcare system can help.
There are more than 100 community testing locations in the state. Unfortunately, due to increased testing demand across the country the processing time has increased to about two to 3 days from one or two days.
It’s not ideal for it to take more than three days. There have been cases where it took four or five days. You will get the results in two to three working days if you visit a community site. We hope to bring it down to one or two days.
Gov. Polis: We hope to bring it down to less than two days within the next week or two, which is our goal at all levels, including at the state laboratory, which is currently just over two days.
Our other testing program, the rapid tests were not intended to be diagnostic tests. When we first launched [the program]Because there was less demand and more supply, they said that you would get them to your home in four to five working days. If you are ill, you should go to a community test site. Don’t delay.
This program, the free rapid testing, is now being implemented by President Biden and the country. We are very grateful for it.
Warner: That’s right. They will be federally availble.
Gov. Polis: Yes. There is a ten-day to two-week wait between when you sign up and when you receive your Colorado one. People who are connected to schools may get it a bit faster. This is another one we hope to decrease over the next week. [the wait time]People receive it within one week of requesting it.
Warner: How do you do that?
Gov. Polis: We added another vendor to increase our supply. They were the Binax test in the past. We now have another one [that has]Very good data about its effectiveness, iHealth. These will start to be in the mix in a few days and that gives us an additional supply to send out.