EDITORIAL: Polis, health officials giving Colorado night sweats over pandemic, vaccine confusion

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It’s time for Gov. Jared Polis to step into growing confusion and public frustration over state and local pandemic policies, confusion that Polis is partly responsible for. 

A groundswell of bewilderment started a week ago when Polis, during a late-night Dec. 30 news dump, announced he would intervene in the already wobbly pandemic rules regulating state businesses. With only minutes of notice to local health departments, Polis arbitrarily reduced the level of risk gauge for Aurora regional communities.

With little detail or explanation, Polis said that downward-trending rates of COVID-19 infection inspired him to press state health officials to dial back the region’s “red” state of alarm to “orange.” The biggest effect of the abrupt change will be the return of limited dining inside financially starving restaurants.

Polis said that a hospital intensive care vacancy rate of “only 73%” also signaled to him that the metro area was ready for lighter business restrictions. Lauding the fact that 3 out of 4 ICU beds are currently taken hardly builds confidence in Colorado’s currently precarious situation. 

Despite Polis’ comments, the already complicated and seemingly arbitrary system his state health department had created signaled that the metrics it relies upon for branding Colorado risk levels didn’t warrant the change.

That nervousness is made worse as Colorado waits to see what how a newly identified, more-contagious coronavirus variant alters infection rates, and whether an expected surge in infections from the holiday season materializes.

Making the confusion worse, counties like Arapahoe and others had just announced a new “5-Star” program, allowing select businesses to operate under more relaxed pandemic restrictions in exchange for adhering to anti-pandemic rules and regulations. Essentially, the program allows businesses working under the 5-Star system to operate at state pandemic risk levels one grade, or color, under existing ones. For days after Polis abrupt move, neither local health department nor officials at the state could provide clear guidance when local businesses should operate at which level of risk.

While regional health departments and the state still struggle with Polis’ clockwork orange debacle, Colorado’s COVID-19 vaccination program has created even worse angst and confusion. 

More than a week into more changes into who will be at the front of the line for limited vaccines, there is still no clear answer when or how people outside of nursing homes and front-line medical operations will receive vaccines.

Most frustrated are residents older than 70 who have been moved up in priority. The Sentinel and other media have tried repeatedly to get clear answers from state and local health officials instructing those elder residents when to expect access to the vaccine, and how.

As of Jan. 6, the confusion persists. Polis and state health officials offered updates during a virtual press conference, but they did little to make clear to hundreds of thousands of anxious elderly residents how and when they will receive the vaccine. 

Some media outlets were told that residents can “reserve” a place in line at some local pharmacies, although it’s unclear how. Others were told that instructions will come directly from doctors, who will get instructions from local health departments. Tri-County has said via its website that information is forthcoming.

Until now, Polis as well as state and local health officials have admirably steered Colorado through endless unknowns, grave danger and a federal government that has worked against solving problems from the pandemic.

So much confusion only makes what we have all repeatedly been told will be the worst phase of the pandemic more difficult, and it undermines credibility Polis and the state desperately need to see Colorado through the crisis.

Polis, state and local health officials need to agree on a clear, explainable and unified policy for vaccinations and regulations, and then release that to the public. More of the same creates nothing but danger for everyone.

 

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