Count us among the many who — when just weeks into the pandemic crisis — never expected the chief public demand one year later to be making it easier to get one of three effective vaccines for the new coronavirus.
A testament to human perseverance and ingenuity in science, vaccinating the entire planet toward herd immunity is nothing short of miraculous — just after a matter of months.
Getting to this point, however, across the state, the region and the nation, has included a bevy of tragedies, some other successes and some dismal failures.
Days into the news that the novel coronavirus was deadly, highly contagious and unbound by geography and politics, ghastly mistakes were made, mostly at the hands of the Trump administration.
Without cause, Trump dismissed the threat of the virus. At the time, the evidence was already clear that the potential for the virus to create a pandemic was real and growing.
One day after the first case of the coronavirus was reported in Seattle, Trump infamously set the tone for how the U.S. government would handle the catastrophe.
“We have it totally under control,” Trump said. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Days later, when the wildfire-spread of the virus became imminent, officials at the Centers for Disease Control astounded much of the global science and medical community by not insisting on people wearing masks at all times in public. The moment set in place a still roiling battle to force people to cover their mouths and noses to prevent the spread of the virus.
The science was solid before the pandemic, as past mass infections revealed successful mitigation with masks. The CDC, however, unwittingly recommended against it, uncertain whether non-symptomatic victims spread the virus. They do.
That moment may well have cost many of the 527,000 American people who have perished from the pandemic, so far. It certainly fueled an atmosphere where some people, mostly vocal conservatives, wrongly equate the mask mandate with government control and civil rights, not science.
The arguments have been nothing short of dangerous, sophomoric rants.
Unlike elected officials in some states insist, wearing a mask is not a personal choice. It’s the same kind of mandate that keeps drunken pilots out of airplane cockpits, restaurant employees with hepatitis from infecting the public and car racers out of school zones.
Locally, the mask controversy illustrated one of the biggest pitfalls in managing the pandemic across the state: coordination. Gov. Jared Polis was late to the cause of mandating masks, deferring to local health and city officials, who mostly wanted to defer to Polis and the state.
On more than one occasion, Polis has vacillated between statewide orders and local control and exemptions. The need for flexibility was obvious because of the vastly different characters of rural and urban communities, and the impact of the virus in those areas.
More than a year into the pandemic, the critical issue of regionality is still unsettled. In a virus pandemic, local control cannot include independent municipalities in a singular metro community. Colorado doesn’t have to wait until the next pandemic to correct this problem. State and local health officials should draw distinct boundaries for multi-jurisdictional areas like the greater Aurora-Denver region. The virus is unaffected by county boundaries. That kind of control can only come from the state.
While coordination among federal, state and local officials has sometimes been fraught with problems, in many instances, it was key in averting a larger disaster.
State health and hospital officials were able to quickly manage the ebb and flow of hospitalized COVID-19 cases and resources, preventing a cataclysm like that in New York City and parts of California and Texas. Fortunately, hindsight revealed that mass-treatment field hospitals were expensive and unneeded. With the nation’s limited understanding of the pandemic of the time, the decision to erect them was wise.
After a year of managing a pandemic that was unthinkable by most Americans before last March, Polis and the army of health and municipal officials have done an admirable job in navigating unknown, unpredictable and unpopular obstacles and solutions.
Polis has proven to be a solid, reliable and tireless leader in the worst modern crisis to envelope the state.
The leaders and rank-and-file at the Tri-County health department have provided cutting-edge insights into monitoring and managing the pandemic.
Aurora city, police and fire officials have been rock steady in ensuring public safety systems never wavered.
Despite initial confusion and current frustration with finding a way to get the vaccine among myriad providers and systems, the no-win decision to hand vaccine distribution to seasoned professionals — instead of a newly invented state-run network — was a good one. Mass vaccination clinic fiascos in other states are in stark contrast to Colorado’s relatively efficient system. There could be no perfect answer here, only worse ones.
Missing now is a single source people still exasperated by trying to navigate the vaccine maze, and rightfully approved to receive the vaccine, can appeal to for help. Given current successes, that’s a job for local health departments.
Residents in Aurora, and across the state, should feel confident that officials that brought us through this unparalleled crisis so far should be trusted to finish the job. And all of those leaders are consistent in pointing out: It’s not over. Colorado needs to stay the course with ensuring the virus is contained by mandates and regulations that have clearly been shown to work.