Colorado’s top epidemiologist said Thursday that she believes coronavirus is circulating in the state at its highest rate since the pandemic began.
“We believe that there is more COVID-19 circulating in Colorado right now than there has been since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Herlihy said modeling estimates more than one out of every 100 people in Colorado are contagious with coronavirus right now.
There were 894 coronavirus hospitalizations in Colorado as of Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis announced, the state’s highest level. The previous hospitalizations record in Colorado was 888 set on April 14.
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In some of his most blunt remarks since coronavirus reached Colorado, Polis called the situation “grim and sobering.” He asked Coloradans to interact only with members of their own household through the month of November, though he did not mandate as much.
“Every time you decide not to go to a dinner party, not to go to a friend’s house … you’re making a difference in saving lives,” Polis said during a video briefing with reporters.
If Coloradans don’t change their behavior, Polis said “the toll will be immense.”
In response to the case surge, the University of Colorado announced Thursday afternoon that all classes will shift to remote instruction starting Nov. 16. This is the second time this semester that the Boulder campus has suspended in-person instruction to slow the spread of the disease.
In an email to the Boulder campus community, Provost Russell Moore and COO Patrick O’Rourke called the increase in cases in metro Denver concerning and said “it will take a substantial community-wide effort to bend the curve of infection back down.”
Polis has for weeks been pleading with people to limit their interactions and take mask wearing and social distancing more seriously. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, though, have continued rising at a fast clip.
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The governor dismissed the idea of a statewide lockdown, saying a shutdown like the one that was mandated in March hasn’t been part of the current conversation. “I haven’t heard anybody talk about a shutdown or a lockdown,” Polis said. “I think many of the counties in the Denver metro area are absolutely looking at additional mitigation steps.”
The governor has in the past said doubt the efficacy and enforceability of implementing certain COVID-19 restrictions before enacting them days later.
Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
In the near term, Herlihy said there is no sign of rising cases and hospitalizations abating.
“In short,” she said, “we are headed in the wrong direction.”
She warned that Colorado’s hospital capacity could be surpassed in the coming weeks and pleaded with Coloradans to make swift changes in their habits.
Polis said Colorado could face a coronavirus catastrophe on the level of New York City if the situation isn’t abated.
“Colorado, I love you,” Polis said. “This is an intervention.”
The “wake-up call” issued by Polis and Herlihy comes as more Colorado counties are sliding backwards on the state’s coronavirus restrictions scale and are being forced to limit the capacity of restaurants, retailers and offices. The state’s economy has taken a hit as a result, with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reporting Thursday the highest number of new unemployment claims since July.
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Cherry Creek School District on Thursday announced that it will transition to full remote learning. Middle and high school students will finish out the week and remote learning for them will begin Nov. 11.
For preschool and elementary students in Cherry Creek School District, their last day of in-classroom learning will be Nov. 11 and they will transition to remote learning on Nov. 16.
“The virus is now at a dangerous level in our community and we have seen a sustained trend in the data,” Superintendent Scott A. Siegfried wrote to parents.
In anticipation that many CU students will return home once in-person instruction ends on Nov. 13, the campus officials said on-campus COVID-19 testing will be expanded beginning Monday and recommended anyone planning to leave Boulder get tested 48 to 72 hours before departure.
“Getting tested before traveling is crucial to helping prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health of those around you,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote.