Colorado Prepares For Coronavirus Surge, Adding Thousands Of Hospital Beds, Stocking Up On Medical Equipment

Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that the state will close schools through April 30, and that Colorado had placed a large order for medical equipment to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Almost a million public and private school children in Colorado will not be returning to their school buildings until April 30 at least, as the state battles to contain the new coronavirus.

That closure extends past the statewide stay-at-home order, currently set to end on April 11.

Polis said the stay-at-home order is the most extreme order he’s issued to help eliminate the spread of the virus, and said if people stay home and practice social distancing he may not have to extend the order. But even if the order isn’t extended, Polis stressed that doesn’t mean life will go back to normal.

"It doesn't mean it's the exact same normal that it was that we took for granted three months ago, six months ago," he said. Polis added that he wants to return to less restrictive measures sooner rather than later.

"But the most effective way to reduce this spread, absent effective mass testing and tracing and quarantining, which are not yet in place, is to limit person-to-person interactions," he said. "That's what we're doing as a state. And that's what you're doing to save lives."

Polis said he considers three primary factors in making policy decisions around Colorado’s coronavirus efforts.

He said those are, first, when the viral spread will be under control; then, when the state’s medical surge capacity can be built up to prepare for those who will be sickened by COVID-19; and finally, resolving supply chain issues around personal protective equipment and tests.

Scott Bookman, incident commander with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said he expects to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in hospitals between April and July. He said the state will set up additional hospital beds in places like arenas to help alleviate the pressure on hospitals. This will also ensure patients receive the proper care at the proper time. 

“It will look similar to what you are seeing in New York City right now in Central Park,” Bookman said.

Bookman said the state is working to have at least 15,000 beds ready by May 15 to treat patients who need some form of care for COVID-19.

He said that includes, for example, 5,000 ICU beds in hospitals by April 18. Hospitals will be used to treat critically ill patients who need ventilators and dialysis. Other treatment centers will be used to treat less critically ill patients like those who need a doctor or nurse to monitor their health daily. Beds will also be available for people who are asymptomatic and those experiencing homelessness who need to quarantine.

The state will also need to ramp up its transportation services to move patients from place to place as their symptoms change, Bookman said.

Polis said he was frustrated with the supply chain challenges, and said once industrial companies begin producing personal protective equipment, masks will be readily available but that doesn’t help health care workers right now. 

“We’re not only facing a health care crisis but we’re facing a supply chain crisis,” Polis said.

He said that while locating necessary equipment has been challenging, Colorado has placed a large order for medical equipment, including 2.5 million N95 masks, one million surgical masks, 250,000 gowns and 750 ventilators. 

He also said that the state will test the equipment, in some cases with the help of scientists at Colorado State University.

“We want to verify that the masks work and are not counterfeit before we pay for them,” he said.

“We don’t know that we have supplies until they’re in hand and validated because we have to purchase from folks we’ve never purchased from before."

Polis also gave a midday update to the state’s coronavirus numbers: Already, total COVID-19-related deaths had climbed to 77 from yesterday’s count of 69. He also said that there had been 612 hospitalizations, up from 509.

“This will touch almost all of us, to be clear,” he said, after saying that two friends of his have been infected, one of whom has been hospitalized.