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Polis, health officials warn of larger third wave of COVID-19 if people don't change behaviors

The governor shared the latest projections amid what officials call Colorado's third wave of COVID-19.

DENVER — Colorado health officials are working to spread a message about limiting the spread of COVID-19 as hospitalizations and positivity rises across the state – something that models indicate could exceed ICU capacity by late December if trends don’t change.

Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said the state is launching a campaign to communicate the need to increase social distancing and mask wearing to those who have not yet received the message. He advocated for people to continue to only interact with one other household at a time, avoid large gatherings and practice basic hygiene.

“I know we’re all very tired of the virus, fatigue is setting in, and that’s why we’re seeing these numbers,” Polis said during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The state’s seven-day average for positivity has risen above 5%. The World Health Organization has recommended that communities work to keep that number below 5% in order to control the spread of the virus.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy outlined Colorado’s latest trends in the virus, saying the state is experiencing a third wave. Polis said roughly ¼ of the 1,800 ICU beds in Colorado are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

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There are 417 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Colorado, and Herlihy said Colorado could exceed its hospitalizations from the spring by mid-November.

“It isn’t until we get to the most optimistic scenarios that we have the potential to avoid exceeding our spring wave,” Herlihy said.

While there was a statewide stay-at-home order in the spring, Polis said his office is focused on control COVID-19 at community levels. Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties have all instituted limits of gatherings due to increased viral presence in their communities.

The governor touted Boulder County – which took the unprecedented step of limiting all interactions between college students – of an example of success at a local level. Due to a recent decrease in COVID-19 cases, the county is now allowing gatherings of up to 10 people.

Jill Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said the state is operating on a dial system where counties experiencing surges in COVID-19 will have a 14 day grace period to slow the spread.

She said there are multiple levels of reopening, and that the hope is that COVID-19 doesn’t once again reach the level of a stay-at-home order.

 “We hope no county ever has to go there again,” Ryan said.

He said the data indicates private gatherings among different households are driving this wave. 

“Remember what a local government or state government does, it’s only part of the equation – 80% is what you choose to do,” Polis said. “The biggest single factor that effects the spread of the virus is the choices you make, it’s your behavior, it’s our behavior.”

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