December 31, 2020
Today, Governor Polis announced an update to entering Phase 1B to more closely align with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance. Phase 1B still includes moderate risk healthcare workers with less direct contact with COVID patients, such as home health, hospice, pharmacy and dental settings, as well as first responders, including EMS, firefighters, police, correctional workers, dispatchers, funeral services workers, other first responders and COVID-19 response personnel.
This update means that Phase 1B also now covers Coloradans 70 and older, who represent 78% of all COVID deaths in our state. Coloradans age 70 and older will have the opportunity to begin getting vaccinated in the next few days and it’s expected to take 4-5 weeks until everyone over 70 who wants to be protected from the deadly virus has received their first vaccination.
This phase also includes frontline essential workers and continuity of state government, which will include:
• Educators and daycare staff
• Food and agriculture workers
• US Postal Service
• Public Transit and specialized transportation personnel
• Grocery workers
• Public Health workers
• Direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness
• Essential personnel for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government
• Frontline journalists
For these occupation-specific groups, dates will be scheduled with employers and facilities and workers will be informed through their normal official communication channels.
Phase 2 will include all Coloradans ages 60-69 and high risk Coloradans ages 16-59, other essential workers, and continuity of local government.
With these updates – depending on a steady supply of vaccines from the federal government – we anticipate getting through Phase 1 in the spring, Phase 2 by late spring/early summer and vaccinating the general population by summer 2021.
It remains critical that any frontline health care workers in 1A who have not received the vaccine, sign up and get vaccinated.
COVID VARIANT UPDATE
And there’s some bad news, too. At today’s press conference, Governor Polis shared an important update on the discovery of the COVID-19 variant in Colorado. He was joined by Dr. Emily Travanty, Scientific Director & Interim Director of the State Public Health Laboratory; Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s lead epidemiologist; and Dr. Eric France, Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer.
As you may have heard in the news, yesterday scientists in Colorado’s State Lab identified the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant in the United States is in Colorado. The individual is in his 20s and has not recently traveled. He is currently recovering in isolation. Public health officials are working diligently to identify anyone who may have been exposed to this person, as well as any other potential cases.
Additionally, a second sample– that is highly suspicious, but not yet confirmed with the CDC– was also positive by diagnostic PCR testing.
Both cases are Colorado National Guard personnel who were deployed to support staffing at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla, Colorado in Elbert County. The nursing home has an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. As part of their deployment to support facilities that are having severe staffing shortages due to COVID-19 outbreaks, National Guard personnel are routinely tested for COVID-19.
Health officials are currently investigating possible explanations for how these individuals may have acquired the infections.
While Colorado may have been the first state to confirm a case of this variant strain, it’s unlikely this is truly the first case in the United States.
As Dr. France explained in today’s press conference, all viruses change over time. What’s somewhat unique here is that preliminary studies suggest that this new variant makes the virus more infectious. Patients are still getting the same symptoms– fever, cough, fatigue. But if they get sick with this variant of COVID, instead of infecting, on average 2 or 3 others, they might infect 4 or 5 others. This will speed up the spread of the virus in our community. The more cases we spread, the sooner our hospitals, nursing homes and intensive care units are overwhelmed. If this more infectious virus gets into a nursing home, it might mean that a larger number of the residents will catch COVID-19, at a time when we are only weeks away from vaccinating these people. That’s exactly why we are taking the cases so seriously.
Although this highly infectious variant is concerning, the new variant doesn’t seem more deadly – your risk of being really sick or hospitalized is not higher if you are infected with the new virus compared to the old one. And scientists are also confident that the vaccine will be effective in providing immunity against it.
We must continue to:
- Wear a mask
- Stay at least 6 feet away from others
- Avoid gatherings with those outside your home
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
As we have seen across the country, the COVID-19 virus is prevalent in nursing homes and these facilities tend to have a higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms. For this reason, Governor Polis has requested that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allow Colorado to pause visitation to nursing homes until further notice.
Public health officials across the state are doing everything they can to vaccinate this population as quickly as possible. But until this is completed, state health officials want to take extra cautions to protect Coloradans living and working in these facilities.
Thank you, National Guard
Today, Governor Polis shared his deep appreciation for members of Colorado’s National Guard. From the beginning of this pandemic they have put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the health and safety of Coloradans. Colorado’s National Guard members have helped set up COVID-19 testing centers around our state, coordinated PPE storage and distribution, they are helping deliver vaccines to our communities, and are being deployed to the frontlines of this virus, right alongside our essential health care workers.
In Simla, these members were deployed to help staff the facility during an outbreak, where 100% of residents have tested positive, and ultimately ended up contracting the virus.
The Governor emphasized the importance of the work these men and women are doing and expressed his gratitude for their service.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve Safely
This variant is just another reminder of why it’s so important that we don’t abandon tried and true methods of protecting ourselves and others.
Just because vaccines are beginning to make their way into Colorado communities, it doesn’t mean life is back to normal. In fact the very first Coloradans to receive the vaccine won’t even be immune for another two weeks as they will be getting the second vaccine in about a week.
As Governor Polis stressed today, dealing with this pandemic has been like running a marathon. The last thing we want to do is trip and fall before we reach the end.
And that’s exactly what will happen if Coloradans don’t exercise caution this New Year’s Eve.
If Coloradans choose to celebrate pre-pandemic style and cause a new spike of cases and hospitalizations – it could set our state back by weeks.
So please, celebrate safely. Don’t have parties or indoor get-togethers with anyone you don’t live with. Celebrate with your loved ones at home, or find safe, alternative ways to ring in 2021. There are plenty of ways to celebrate without risking lives and putting our economy in danger.
This is our last big hurdle. And if we can get through this without a spike, we are setting ourselves up for a strong recovery in 2021. You have done it before Colorado. We outperformed the rest of the county during the Thanksgiving season! We need you to do it one more time.
On behalf of Governor Polis, thank you. For your resilience, your sacrifice, your optimism, your determination, your generosity to one another, and more over this last year.
Please be safe and have a happy new year.
Governor Jared Polis
200 E Colfax, State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203