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1-on-1 with Polis: COVID-19 tests, social distancing, open ski lifts

Gov. Jared Polis suggested a moratorium on gatherings of more than 250 people. We asked for more details on that, and on where Colorado stands on testing.

DENVER — Coloradans got a suggestion from Gov. Jared Polis on Friday to stop gathering in large groups.

But it's up to everyone else to do what the science says.

9NEWS political reporter Marshall Zelinger sat down with the governor to talk enforcing his request, as well as some of the mixed messages we’ve gotten from the state.

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MZ: Scott Bookman, your incident commander for state Public Health, said multiple times on Next yesterday that we're beyond the point for mass testing, and today you called for more testing. Why am I hearing two messages from the same team?

Polis: No, it's the same message. I mean, we were clear today -- what is the purpose of testing? It's to determine whether you can go back to work right after your symptoms subside, because if it was the cold or flu, you need to take those three or four days off, and then go back. Or, do you need to wait the full 14 days before you go back to work because it's coronavirus? From a public health testing for epidemiological surveys. We need it statistically. We're getting that, we're doing that. If somebody needs immediate healthcare, the testing will be done. But whether you have pneumonia or coronavirus, or whatever you have, you need the hospitalization if you're having trouble breathing. 

RELATED: Here's an honest look at where Colorado stands on testing for COVID-19

The value of the testing at this point is, in the general sense, it's nice to know, but more importantly, it just determines whether or not you can go back to work when you're symptoms subside, or whether you have to stay out a full two weeks, and that's the main purpose that it fulfills at this point.

If it's not coronavirus, we want you to go back to work after three or four days, both for yourself, as well as for our economy.

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MZ: You want to stop large gatherings of 250 or more unless they can keep 6 feet apart. ... Could we have another Post Malone concert (his concert in Denver went on as planned)? Places like Denver Center for the Performing Arts could say they'll have people in every other row?

Polis: Again, the guidance, and the mayor addressed this in the press conference, that there will not be public gatherings of more than 250 people unless there's spacing protocols that are taken.

I don't think [places like DCPA] are ready for that now, but this is here for the longterm. We expect that some venues will roll out those measures in the weeks ahead because they want to get back to entertainment, they want to get back to serving people in a safe way.

MZ: What about a grocery store or big box store? Those have more than 250 people?

Polis: That's not a gathering or a crowd. If you have a large store, or some people said restaurants, they're not going to be closed down. ...

MZ: Why not tell ski resorts, you're closed, or you can only have 250 people or fewer people ski in a day?

Polis: Well, that's ridiculous. I mean, 250 people ski in a day -- you're talking about a huge slope. First of all, outdoor recreation is a great thing to do, if you have your kids, biking, hiking -- all those great things in the outdoors. They have taken measures and are taking measures to make sure that on gondolas, which are close, that it's only one skiing group at a time. If you're skiing with three buddies, the four of you ride up in the gondola. There's not another group of four and another group of two. Same on the chair lifts. ... You're already exposed to your group. You're already hanging out with them. That's your three or four buddies. We're not concerned about that, that's what's already occurring. We want to prevent everybody from being in enclosed spaces for a period of time. ...

We hope to avoid the Italy approach by taking these steps earlier in the curve than Italy did. Significantly earlier. We feel that on many of these, we're acting about two weeks earlier -- if Italy had taken the steps that we took, we think they could have avoided that spike. This will all be superseded by the data and the science that we get.

MZ: What's your biggest fear, that you approach both personally and professionally?

The last big [similar] incidence was 1918 in Colorado with the flu, about a century ago. We did, in my first month, go through a contagion experience, so we've been through the workshop on this.

Yes, I think most people would have expected it would be a fire, it would be a flood. That was a more likely scenario.

[COVID-19] has ramifications far beyond Colorado, right? There's a major economic impact on the global economy, particularly in Colorado, which has a tourism economy. Oil and gas prices, $30 a barrel. Might be good for consumers, bad for producers. So there's a lot of impacts that are beyond our control. We're not focused on those. ... We're focused on the public health response. ... We feel we have that key, few-day lead on where the rest of the country is. We're a couple days ahead of where the country is.

WATCH | Full interview with Gov. Polis