Polis Will Dial Down Coronavirus Restrictions Once Vaccines Take Hold

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The dinner rush at Angelo’s Taverna, in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, just a few days after dining inside was allowed again. Jan. 5, 2020.

Gov. Jared Polis said discussions are underway to tweak the state's color-coded dial system, which lays out restrictions and public health steps, once those over 70 get vaccinated.

“There will be more substantive changes of the dial. And we're beginning these conversations once our most vulnerable are protected, right? What does the dial look like?” he said. “Once everybody over 65, essential workers, all have protection, there will still be a need for a dial, but it will be recalibrated.”

Polis described the finish line to the pandemic being in sight, provided key factors, like vaccinations, continue to go well in the state.

“The winding down of the dial, that's late spring (or) summer, that's the end of the pandemic,” Polis said. “That's not where we are yet. There's not a time date for that yet.”

He stressed transmission levels are still high.

“One in 115 people in Colorado is the estimate of how many people are contagious right now with COVID-19,” Polis said. “One in every 115 people. So that means if you encounter that many people in a week at the grocery store going about your life, one of them is likely to be infectious,” 

In an update with reporters on Tuesday, the Democratic governor and state epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, said key metrics like hospitalizations and transmission continue to trend in a positive direction — downward.

“We really can't let up now. We're here in mile 23 of the marathon,” Polis said.

Polis and Herlihy urged the public to keep it up with public health measures like masking, social distancing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and hand washing.

One big wild card is the potential impact of emerging strains of the virus. Herlihy says 10 cases of a variant that’s spread widely in the UK have been found in Colorado. But state health officials don’t believe it’s spreading widely here, in part due to residents keeping transmission levels relatively low. She said the state is testing 100 to 200 samples a week for the variant.

“What we need to do right now to minimize how quickly we see this variant in the state and in the country is to maintain all of those things that we've been doing the last couple of months that have been successful,” Herlihy said.

U.S. case and hospitalization numbers are starting to trend downward, after reaching staggering highs in recent weeks. Herlihy said based on the estimated rate of transmission, Colorado ranks 11th lowest among states for transmission of COVID-19. But she says overall case rates are still high, which is why precautions are still needed.

She said if residents can keep up their precautionary efforts, like masking and distancing, the state’s models show thousands of lives would be saved, compared to if people let down their guard.

Likewise, increased vaccination is expected to limit transmission, though that will take some months to show up in the state’s daily COVID-19 metrics.