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Gov. Polis: Colorado now in ‘fourth wave’ of COVID-19 infections

Health officials said this wave will look different than the last three since it's driven by more infectious variants and younger people are being hospitalized.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) warned of increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during a news conference Friday afternoon and implored people to continue wearing masks and avoiding gatherings as vaccinations continue. 

The governor said that people between 18 and 50 years old account for the biggest increase in hospitalizations, which have risen above 400 for the first time since February after dipping below 300 last month.

“I don’t expect there to be a fifth wave, but that’s our concern now, the fourth wave,” Polis said. “We’re almost back to normal.”

People over 70 – who were previously most at risk for COVID-19 – are largely vaccinated and no longer account for the majority of hospitalizations, Polis said, adding that this wave of COVID-19 will likely look different from others.

"This means the ratio of death to the instances of disease will be lower," Polis said. "It does not mean we won't lose more Coloradans." 

The state has opened up COVID-19 vaccines to everyone over the age of 16. Polis said he expects everyone who wants a vaccine to be able to get one by mid-May, and for some degree of normalcy to return by mid-June.

This comes as some counties have been forced to take a step back on the state’s COVID-19 dial even as the state is set to abandon the system in favor of local control next week.

Polis said 1,953 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday – the largest total the state has seen in “some time.” Health officials said 43% of the COVID-19 samples being tested contain the more transmissible UK variant.

More than 50% of Colorado's cases are being caused by variants of concern. 

>> Watch the full press conference from Friday below

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“Chances are, if you develop COVID now, you are likely infected with a variant that is more easily spread and could more easily spread severe illness,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said.

“We want to encourage everyone who has symptoms to get tested, and until you get tested isolate yourself,” Polis said.

To bolster testing numbers, Polis announced Friday that anyone who interacts with members of the public as part of their jobs can sign up for free home COVID-19 rapid tests from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“This is a big step to building back the Colorado we love,” Polis said. “As we rapidly scale up our vaccine capacity, this testing is more important than ever.”

The governor and Colorado Chief Medical Officer Eric France also addressed an incident earlier this week at the mass vaccination site at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which was briefly shut down after 11 people suffered adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

France said an investigation revealed that this was not out of the ordinary, and implored people to continue getting the vaccine.

“Ultimately we decided that this was no cause for concern, these were the kinds of reactions that we often have with these types of procedures,” France said. “We’re currently working hard to build the right processes to ensure that we keep people safe at these sites.”

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