EDITORIAL: Colorado, cities, must do more to fight against pandemic

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Now that the non-believers have been either persuaded, or discredited and set aside as irrelevant, it’s time to step up the battle against the unconstrained spread of the novel coronavirus.

Unbelievably, it was just little more than a week ago that as metro public health officials began imposing severe public contact restrictions, a group of dangerously misinformed area Republicans tried to upend stay-at-home orders for Douglas County. Fortunately, the brief insurrection among inept state and county officials went nowhere.

Worse, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week blamed the Trump Impeachment Trial for “distracting” the White House and Senate when they could have been preparing for the onslaught of infection.

We have no doubt that the White House and the Senate can handle only one issue at a time, but McConnell’s pathetic excuse has no bearing on an incompetent Trump administration and a president who is among the dwindling few that believe his own prolific deception.

The nation, and Colorado, are suffering far worse than we need to because of Trump’s malfeasance.  Insufficient virus testing, dawdling, and the lack of coordination of resources are a testament to the Trump administration’s inability to lead.

The nation, however, has no choice but to bear Trump as an additional burden to the pandemic crisis. As the catastrophic health and economic effects of the pandemic move into April, it’s now clear that any assurances this will end in a few weeks are pure delusion.

The most credible experts in Colorado and the nation make it clear that the spread of the virus and its toll on the health care system is going to get far worse, and there is no clear picture for how long.

We are fortunate that Gov. Jared Polis was among state leaders who relatively swiftly imposed defensive measures, closing ski areas and restaurants. Polis moved to shorten the wait for massive numbers of newly unemployed residents to collect unemployment benefits to just one week. He instituted drive-through virus testing. And Polis moved fast to ensure the state compiles meaningful data.

But state and local governments must do more, and the public must do more to adhere to what the science so far makes clear are the best ways to prevent virus transmission.

• The statewide collected data is good, but it needs to be better. Currently, state public health officials report how many COVID-19 patients are admitted to hospitals, but it does not track when they are released. How many hospital beds  — statewide, and hospital by hospital — are being occupied by COVID-19 patients is an important number for the public and health officials. Additional information about the condition of patients would be helpful as well, but at a minimum, the state must track active hospitalization.

• Likewise, the state currently tracks “breakouts” in group-home settings, usually nursing homes, but they do not report the name and location of these residential centers. That’s inexcusable. Last week, the Denver Post retrieved some information by invoking state open records laws. It is unthinkable that state officials would work to shield this critical information for any reason, and it must stop.

• Polis was touting what he said was about a 60 percent drop in commuter traffic in the metro area, compared to before pandemic shut-downs began in the region. We have little faith that 40 percent of the metro area must get to jobs that qualify as “essential” or are making a rare trip to an urgent medical appointment or the grocery store. The problem is that far too many metro residents still don’t think “stay-at-home” orders apply to them. A local Hobby Lobby store flagrantly flouted closure regulations this week. Given that these orders are almost certainly going to continue in the metro Aurora-Denver area for at least a month, it only makes sense to mandate greater compliance, which will result in greater virus transmission reduction.

Rather than just collectively shake our heads, local governments must step up efforts to demand compliance. Aurora currently has a smattering of non-police entities warning scofflaws. Given that so many people aren’t complying, Aurora and other governments must begin campaigns to warn and fine culprits.

• Polis should also investigate a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone entering the state. Exceptions could be made for medical and truly essential workers. But a statewide, economically horrific lockdown is all for naught if the state keeps importing fresh pools of virus.

• “Essential” businesses that endanger employees, and the public, by forcing them into too-close and unsafe working conditions must be stopped. State and local health departments must act swiftly to prevent work-related virus transmission, undermining the state’s Herculean efforts to keep people apart and keep the wheels on the economy.

• There are huge amounts of confusing and often conflicting information coming from the Trump Administration, and it’s dangerous. Because of the nature of the crisis, massive, just-cobbled legislation and policies, and ties between federal and state agencies, financially struck businesses and residents are confused and anxious. Polis should direct staff to create straightforward, succinct online answers to frequent questions about unemployment benefit applications, business crisis programs and loans and what is “essential” work, and what’s not.

All of these stay-home mandates are difficult and economically destructive. But everyone will benefit most if better enforcement curtails the forced closures and distancing sooner. Initial regulations and faith in the public has gotten Colorado this far, but clearly, it will take much more to truly slow the spread of this disease.