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1-on-1 with Polis: 'There's light at the end of the tunnel,' governor says of COVID-19

Political reporter Marshall Zelinger sat down with Gov. Jared Polis to discuss the first six months of COVID-19 and what we can expect going forward.

DENVER — After six months and more than 60,000 cases, Coloradans are still adjusting to life with coronavirus. The Denver Broncos played their first game of the season this week in front of cardboard fans. Teachers and families are navigating "back to school" through outbreaks. Restaurant owners who barely adjusted to turning their establishments inside-out are now wondering how to bring customers back in as the temperature shifts downward.

9NEWS political reporter Marshall Zelinger sat down with Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for a socially distant interview to talk about his executive orders during the pandemic, the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine and high school sports.

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>>See the full interview here.

Are you comfortable signing 40+ executive orders without state legislature input?

When the legislature was back – some of the orders lead to good permanent change. For instance, the spending rules that got in the way of telemedicine. We did that on a provisional basis, emergency rule. The legislature put that into law, I signed it. Coloradans will have access to telemedicine going forward. Takeout alcohol from restaurants – emergency order started helping our restauranteurs. They’ve been hard hit by this. We want them to get by in this new world. That was put into law. I signed it. [The executive orders] are not all designed to be permanent, but if we can expand freedom and choice, and reduce regulations permanently because of this, I’m all for it.

At the beginning of the restrictions, with your executive orders, the goal was to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed. They've not been overwhelmed for months now, is that still the goal?

I think what’s important is that we’re able to maintain at a level where we can grow our economy, we’re successful in reopening, we save lives and we don’t threaten our hospital capacity. Thus far, Coloradans have been doing a great job wearing masks, avoiding large groups and accomplishing just that.

We’re still at 50% capacity for restaurants or other places. Schools are mixed on whether they’re in-person or remote. We’ve got the capacity limits for indoor and outdoor events. Is this as good as it gets until we get a vaccine?

Most schools are back. If you live in a district where they’re not back, hopefully they’re coming back soon. A couple of the bigger districts are waiting a little bit longer just to make sure they have those COVID prevention protocols in place, and kids are not exposed to too many other kids. I’ve visited a number of schools across our state and seen the great work they’re doing – kids that are wearing masks. It’s as safe as it’s going to be during a pandemic. I get that for some families, it’s not safe enough. They want do homeschooling or virtual schooling until this is over. I get that. But for most of us, it’s a reasonable risk – I think that kids in many cases, kids are at risk not having that kind of environment to grow and learn in.

People just want to see light at the end of the tunnel knowing that all of these executive orders meant something. This was all worth it in some way. Is there no light until there is that vaccine?

Well with restaurants, they’re at half-capacity. Many of them are outdoors, now they’re at 100% capacity. Some are at 120%. The challenge we’re facing – we’re going to have great weather through October, outdoor dining. As you get into November and December, it’s a little cold, right, for Colorado. What do you do to make sure people have that safe outdoor experience if they choose it instead of the indoor experience? Tents, firepits, space heaters. All of those things.

Of course, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for humanity, right? A cure, a vaccine. There’s already promising therapies – plasma, remdesivir -- reduce hospitalizations, reduce death rates about 20 to 30 percent. That’s good. Not a game-changer, but certainly better to get COVID now than it was six months ago. Many more therapies on the way, and then yes, vaccine trials occurring now. I’m optimistic, maybe it’s because I’m an optimistic person, but I think of the many different vaccines being tested, some that are proven safe and effective, by November or December. That means distribution early next year in quantities that can make a difference and keep people safe.

If that timeline is not correct and it's longer than that, can we sustain this that long?

Well, look. We hope that that’s the timeline. There’s a lot of irons in the fire. I think that some of these vaccines are going to work. I say ‘some.’ Hopefully, it’ll be more than one that works, which is great. There might have some that have 70%, 80%, 90% protection.

What happens over time is humanity builds increase immunity to this virus. Back in the 1918 pandemic, the last one, it hit. It hit really hard for that first year, and then over time, people developed immunity and it became less severe. That’s what will happen with this one. It will be with us forever. Even with a vaccine, this thing isn’t going extinct. It’ll be with us forever, but over time, through both immunizations and through developed immunity, people will be more and more resistant to it and there will be less and less outbreaks over time.

>> Hear more from the governor in the full interview.

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