COLORADO SPRINGS — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, joined Gov. Jared Polis Tuesday afternoon to discuss the state of COVID-19 in Colorado and the anticipated surge in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Fauci said Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases and described the situation the country is seeing as a "public health crisis." He described this increase as worse than the ones we experienced in the past.
"This is something that is quite problematic," he said.
He warned the country could see a surge on top of a surge, and that the result of traveling and the Thanksgiving holiday will appear close to the Christmas holiday.
"I think we're going to be looking at 30 or more days of a period of time of precarious risk. Because even though we're out of the Thanksgiving season, we are rapidly going to emerge into the season of people shopping, crowding, preparing, perhaps even the ill-advised office parties, if they can exist anymore," Fauci said.
The governor and Fauci discussed the efficacy of mask-wearing against the virus, comparing wearing a mask to wearing a seatbelt and how most of the time it works but there are instances it could not work. Fauci encouraged people to continue protecting themselves and others before vaccines become available.
"It's not too late to do something about it... help is on the way," he said. He said 40 million doses of vaccines will be available in the next few weeks for 20 million people. Those will be allocated to the states based on populations.
Fauci said lockdowns have the potential to exacerbate COVID-19 fatigue and we do not have to resort to lockdowns if everyone practices public health guidelines. However, if hospital capacities necessitate a lockdown, he said it will happen.
When asked about bars and restaurants in Colorado struggling to stay afloat with the public health restrictions, Fauci said it's clear from contact tracing that outbreaks consistently come from bars or indoor seating at restaurants.
"Close the bars, open the schools," he said, describing how he sees the relationship with the restrictions and reopening schools.
Polis mentioned the legislature is in special session right now working on bipartisan economic aid for restaurants and bars because Polis said he knows it is not fair to ask them to put their entire life and business at risk.
It remains that one in 41 Coloradans are estimated to be contagious with the virus. Fauci explained the tentative timeline for vaccine distribution while praising the efficacy of the shot.
First, both Polis and Fauci said high priority individuals, such as healthcare workers, those in nursing homes, and veteran facilities will gain access to the vaccine in December. Then, in January, February, and March, essential workers, such as teachers, will be able to get the shot. By April, Fauci expects it will be available to the general public.
"As we get into April, and have vaccines for the general population, for the 20 or 30-year-old healthy man or woman who wants to get vaccinated, once we get there, we can crush this outbreak," Fauci said.
Fauci said if an overwhelming majority of people get vaccinated, then anywhere from May to August could see herd immunity. He said if that happens, we could safely go back to school and work in the fall.
"Please, get vaccinated. For your own safety, and for the safety of loved ones, and for the people of Colorado in general," Fauci said.
The governor said once enough people are vaccinated, then the pandemic aspect of the virus will end.
"That means to end the pandemic, everybody doesn't need to get the shot. Once enough people have it, the disease is still with us, and by the way, the disease will probably still be with us in five years or 10 years, but the pandemic aspect of it is over once a sufficient number of people have been vaccinated," said Polis.
Once enough people get the shot, @GovofCO says the pandemic portion of this will be over. It doesn’t take everyone getting it to stop the rampant spread.— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) December 1, 2020
The governor expects the actual proposal on vaccine prioritization for Colorado to be released next week. The new CDC recommendations on this can be tweaked to meet individual state's needs.
Polis was also asked about when prisoners could get the vaccine.
"There's no way that prisoners are going to get it before members of a vulnerable population. Now, as we do 65 and up, I would think that would include prisoners that are in that category, but the vast majority of people 65 and up are free. It'll first go to people in nursing homes, veterans facilities, front line workers. So, there's no way it's going to go to prisoners before people who haven't committed any crime," Polis said.
In response to a question about Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's Thanksgiving travel, Fauci said mixed-messaging from those in leadership positions can be detrimental.
@GovofCO responds by saying he wishes less people traveled over Thanksgiving, and that includes @MayorHancock’s travel. His hope and prayer is that those who did travel do not contract the deadly virus.— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) December 1, 2020
He also praised the state's health care and front line workers who take care of Coloradans and thanked them for being heroes.
Polis also said one-time stimulus payments are being sent out this week to 435,000 Coloradans who faced unemployment this year due to COVID-19. If you are filed for unemployment and meet the criteria, the $375 will automatically go to your bank account.
Fauci mentioned masks have a positive impact in preventing transmission, while recent data shows it also helps prevent a person from getting infected. Both Fauci and Polis encouraged the state to continue following safety guidelines, avoid gatherings, and wear masks.
This update follows the news of Polis and First Gentleman Marlon Reis testing positive for COVID-19. The governor released a statement Saturday that he and Reis are asymptomatic, feeling well and isolating at their home.
The governor's office announced Wednesday night Polis would be quarantining after learning he was exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus.
The data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment came in a news conference last Tuesday, in which Gov. Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy urged Coloradans to limit their gatherings for Thanksgiving.