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Connecting Colorado: Questions and answers from COVID-19 town hall with Gov. Polis

Polis joined 9NEWS, KRDO and KKCO/KJCT for Connecting Colorado: COVID-19, a town hall where only questions from residents across Colorado were asked.

COLORADO, USA — Testing strategy, hospital supplies, economic recovery, immigrant resources, pregnancy and even the impact on rideshare drivers were among the topics discussed at Connecting Colorado: COVID-19 Tuesday.

Connecting Colorado: COVID-19 was a one-hour town hall focused on the state’s response to COVID-19. All questions for the town hall came from more than 500 questions that were submitted by residents around Colorado. 

The selected questions and their answers are listed below.

Panelists for the town hall were:

  • Gov. Jared Polis (D)
  • Betsy Markey, executive director, Office of Economic Development and International Trade
  • Rachel Herlihy, M.D., MPH, state epidemiologist. 

Kyle Clark, 9NEWS anchor, was the moderator.

RELATED: Gov. Polis extends statewide stay-at-home order to April 26

RELATED: Full text: Colorado stay-at-home order

(Editor's note: Questions and answers have been edited for context and clarity.)

Kaz Hashigami of Denver: "What are you doing to fix the testing process here in Colorado? Anyone should be able to get tested, especially if they are exhibiting a symptom of the virus. My father and a co-worker died through something I could have passed, and even I can’t get tested!"

Polis: It’s only been a month since the first case. We have the ability to test 2,000 people a day. Don’t scramble if you are experiencing symptoms, because nine out of 10 people will feel better and recover just by isolating. If you are the one out of 10 who needs medical attention, seek it. The last thing we want is for 30,000 people to be scrambling around to [get] tests — that would only spread the virus.

Dave Lorenzen of Steamboat Springs: "Why aren't we striving to be able to test everybody, and if we can't do that on a federal level, can we perhaps test everyone on a state level?"

Polis: Because there wasn't mass testing when this started, we could only stop it using extreme social distancing. Once this slows down, mass testing will become a big part of that. 

Herlihy: Testing will be an important strategy going forward, paired with isolation and quarantine efforts. It will allow us to return to normalcy and remove some of the social distancing measures. 

Mauricio of Colorado Springs: "Instead of having test sites for COVID-19, why can’t we just assume we have it?"

Polis: If you have any flu-like symptoms, assume that you have it. This mass quarantine effort, 25% to 50% of people who have had it are a-symptomatic, so that is why we are taking these steps to avoid the spread of the virus from people who don't know they have it. The masks and facial coverings will help control the spread of the virus.

Katie Markman of Parker: "I heard on the national news that Colorado is expected to be one of the next hot spots. I also know that your order for ventilators was canceled by FEMA. So my question is ... will Colorado have enough ventilators if the projected increase in the number of cases prove true?"

Polis: As long as we are staying at home, we bought the time that we need. We will be okay regarding the ventilator system if individuals make the right choices. We are starting to see a difference already, and we will be able to get ventilators to those who need them. 

Michael Braband of Centennial: "What kind of analysis is being done to determine if at what point the stay-home order does more damage to society?" 

Markey: The quicker we can deal with this health crisis, the quicker we can get our economy on track. The worst thing we can do is open back up too quickly. We are approaching economic recovery the same way the governor is approaching the health crisis; we are being proactive and seeking all of the assistance that we can for people in the state. There are four forms of economic relief: $1,200 checks for every adult and an additional $500 for children under 16, increased unemployment insurance benefits and the paycheck protection, loan forgiveness and economic injury loans for our small businesses. We want to make sure that people make use of these programs today.

CJ Dickinson of Arvada: "When the stay at home is lifted, how do we begin again? What does that look like?

RELATED: Without mass testing or tracing contacts of infected, experts say social distancing requirements shouldn't be lifted

Polis: Getting back to totally normal will take a cure or a vaccine. What will happen first is an opening of the economy, but we will still need to watch out for large gatherings and how we do them. People are going to be able to go back to work, and our goal is to open five days before the rest of the country, April 26, but that means that people are going back into work, not that bars and restaurants will open right away. That might take a couple more weeks. We have the time to figure this out, and we won’t be able to pull that trigger until April 26. The business and health experts are working on that every day.

Laurie Ann Mills of Denver: "I represent Metro Caring and I want to know when you're going to address a plan for a rent freeze, and if you're going to include folks like me who depend on an extended stay or other types of hotels for housing right now. My disability check won't be enough, and [I] was furloughed from my part-time job. It's a scary time!"

RELATED: Some Coloradans wonder what to do when the rent is due

Polis: There are no enforcement orders being enforced for a failure to pay rent. People are not being evicted for not paying rent for at least 30 days, which will probably be extended for another 30 days. There are only emergency evictions taking place right now. The $1,200 stimulus is needed money for people to stay at home. The federal government is paying people to stay at home; the least we can do is to earn that paycheck by staying at home unless absolutely necessary. 

Jack Elias of Colorado Springs: "I know there's an eviction moratorium right now. What happens after it expires, to the people who still can't pay their rent? Will they be evicted en masse?" 

Polis: The reason for all of the extraordinary steps is because we know what people are going through this month. It is going to be a tough month. We hope to get back to normalcy as soon as we can so people can enjoy the rest of their lives and support themselves, which will include having people pay their rent or mortgage.

Ben Padilla of Thornton: “I’m an Uber driver. Income has dropped down to a quarter of what it normally is. When will funds for gig workers be available?”

Markey: The forgivable loans for gig workers, independent workers and sole proprietorships opens up this Friday, April 10, which you can apply to through your bank. 

Katie Mikesell of Gunnison: "Is there a plan in place to help mountain communities survive this?"

Polis: Like the rest of Colorado, the mountain communities are going to bounce back. This is temporary. The world-class tourism opportunities will be utilized once again and tourists will be embraced around the world. For the sake of the mountain areas right now, it is important that we let those communities recover. They have been through a lot with this pandemic.

Preston of Lochbuie: "If kids are playing outside in my fenced backyard, do I still need to wear a mask?"

Herlihy: Masks are most important when going out in public. But, we know that a-symptomatic transmission is even possible in households, so if people are going to and from households and having close contact, it is important to practice social distancing at home, and masks can certainly be a part of that strategy. 

Elizabeth Johnson of Longmont: "Is there a test to find out if we have already had the virus?"

Herlihy: The focus of testing is for individuals who are currently infected with the virus, since we need to make sure those people are isolated. There are blood tests that can identify if someone had COVID-19 in the past. There will be an increasing role for those types of tests. They might be useful in understanding the level of immunity in different communities across the state over time. 

David of Grand Junction: "I have a relative who is incarcerated in [the Department of Corrections]. What measures are being taken to help protect inmates and staff?"

RELATED: Local jails fear COVID-19 has entered facilities as dozens of inmates show symptoms

Polis: The state and counties both run such 24/7 facilities. There are two sets of rules and guidance for the state that have been established, such as additional social distancing and working to spread people around. People aren’t being transferred from prison to prison unless it’s an emergency, and the blocks are being isolated. The prison guards are being protected as well. We want to do everything we can to prevent that kind of outbreak in that controlled environment. Our Department of Corrections has been proactive in that regard. 

Floyd Fernandez of Colorado Springs: “In light of the hydroxychloroquine controversy, is there anything we can do to help a run on the medication and reassure those who have depended on it for years to try to control their lupus and rheumatoid arthritis?"

Herlihy: Those medications are very important for certain individuals, and that is our first priority is to treat individuals who need those medications to treat their chronic medical conditions. It is very important to study new medications like hydroxychloroquine and to determine if those medications are effective in treating COVID-19. The best place to use and study those drugs is to test their effectiveness on individuals enrolled in clinical trials and for those who are in hospitals so we can figure out how they can be used most effectively going forward.

Edgar in Pueblo: "What are you doing to help Colorado's undocumented community, who pay taxes, and because of COVID-19 are without a job and will not be getting any stimulus checks?"

Polis: No doctor or hospital is asking for their papers. They aren’t looking for their background. They are going to do their best to save everyone who contracts COVID-19. This is a moment when the virus makes no distinctions, so we need to do our best to make sure that everybody stays at home whenever possible, and if they do go out, to wear a mask. 

Ana Rodriguez of Lakewood: "What is he going to do with his expanded power during this state of emergency to protect the immigrants in the immigrant detention center like GEO in Aurora?"

RELATED: Employee at ICE facility tests positive for COVID-19

Polis: The ICE detention facility is a federal facility. We are encouraging them to take the same kind of social distancing measures and to release those who are only there for civil violations. We need to ask our congressmen and president to do that, though. That is out of my jurisdiction, but I am certainly doing everything in my power to call upon the president to release those who are being held for civil reasons, not for criminal reasons. 

Rebekah Henderson of Denver: "I would really like to see the rest of the country have an excellent mail-in ballot system like we do here in Colorado. What can Colorado do to help expand this nationally? Is there a task force we can have, is there a way for us to get out there and help people make sure people can vote, remove all barriers?"

Polis: I don’t understand why this is controversial in some states. It seems obvious, we have been doing it for a long time. Of course, we should do that. If either party thinks that they are going to lose just because of the mail-in system, that is a problem for that party. Elections are about the people choosing, but that mail-in model has worked well here and other states should do it. 

Matt Schwartz of Gunnison: "What challenges will TABOR present to our state budget as we work to recover from this crisis?"

Polis: TABOR will not be consequential in this matter because of the devastating impact on the economy. The state is going to have budgetary cutbacks. They aren’t even going to be close to that limit level where there is a limitation on state spending. It could be a year or years before that becomes a relevant discussion. It’s not a relevant discussion when the state is well under that level, as we were during the Great Recession. The economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating. 

Philip Linnebur of Colorado Springs: "I’m 59 years old. I want to go on my own terms if the outlook isn’t great. What are the chances for people who get sick if they are put on a ventilator and what’s the outcome? How many people who are hospitalized get a ventilator and what's the survival rate by age?" 

Herlihy: The need for hospitalization, a ventilator and ICU care depends on your age group and chronic medical conditions that might exist. We know that the need for hospitalization among young children is probably less than 1%. When you get to the adults around 60, that number can go up to 20%. From there, it might be 5 to 10% who might need care in an ICU. Most of the ICU patients do end up needing ventilators. In older adults, COVID-19 is severe. A certain percentage of those individuals will die, and the risk is greater for older individuals and those who have underlying chronic health conditions. 

Laura Blevins of Thornton: "Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m 32 weeks pregnant. How can the governor ensure the right for laboring women to have one chosen support person will be safeguarded throughout hospitals in Colorado?"

Herlihy: That’s a policy consideration, but I think that’s important to talk to your OBGYN or your healthcare provider to make sure that you have a plan in place and that you know the restrictions that might be in place if you are planning to deliver soon. I think it’s important to identify alternate strategies, such as using technologies to connect to those individuals. 

Paula Greisen of Denver: "What [do you do] about employers operating "critical" business (not-health care) that refuse to allow employees to wear PPE such as gloves or masks?"

Markey: That is a legal question. The employee should have the right. The governor has made strong suggestions that people should wear face coverings, particularly for those who are working with the public. I would want to contact that person’s attorney to see what rights they have to take against their employer. We want businesses that are still open to take every single precaution to keep their workers safe. I have seen the vast majority of business owners being responsible in that way. 

Lauren Danforth of Littleton: "With the shelter in place restrictions being lifted (hopefully) on April 26th, what will prevent Colorado from seeing an uprise in [coronavirus] cases once we can travel to loved ones and also travel to other cities and states where the virus isn't as well controlled?"

RELATED: What you can and can't do under Colorado's stay-at-home order

Polis: This is not shelter-in-place, this is stay-at-home. Shelter-in-place means you can’t leave your home. Stay-at-home means you might be expected to leave your home, although you try to minimize that. As the country reopens, Colorado won’t be unique in figuring out how to prevent the virus from reinfecting. The concern right now is that there are thousands who have COVID-19 who might be able to spread it, so that is the concern and the reason why we need to stay at home and why we need to fix this. Yes, we need to figure out how we can return to normal, then we can start to address the concerns about how we address the flow of people in the areas with higher infection rates in Colorado. 

Meredith Feniak of Denver: "How is Colorado going to use this forced pause to its benefit? Is there a team of optimists figuring out what changes we can make to all of our systems to allow Colorado to come back even better?" 

Polis: Yesterday I quoted St. Francis of Assisi in saying that one candle is enough to light the darkness. It all begins with those good acts, those kind acts that, in these dark times, the heart and values of people really comes through. It’s the person who’s picking up groceries for their 75-year-old neighbor so they don’t have to go out, it’s the person who is trying their best to make sure that those who are having a tougher time are able to get by in this crisis, it’s the small business owner who’s keeping people on payroll even though they aren’t able to get revenue or do business and doing the right thing by making sure that they have their healthcare. These challenging times are tests of our character and I hope that everyone, optimists or not, are able to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they have done everything that they could. If that means staying home, and that’s all you can do, are you doing that? If it means keeping people on the payroll, doing errands for elderly people, we all should ask ourselves that question about how we are rising to the occasion, how we are being that candle and that light that illuminates us all in these difficult and tough times.

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