Faced with a global supply chain crisis, Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday said Colorado is taking aggressive steps to get critical protective gear on its own to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak, while the head of the state’s COVID-19 response outlined an ambitious undertaking to prepare for a surge in patients that could begin this month.
Colorado has gone straight to China for millions of masks and gloves, hundreds of thousands of gowns, tens of thousands of face shields and hundreds of ventilators as the federal government works to increase domestic production, Polis said during a news conference.
“In a matter of a month or two months, masks will flowing out of our ears,” the governor said. “But that doesn’t help us for what we need next week and the week after. Since the feds won’t come through, we have taken it on ourselves.”
The state is still woefully lacking in personal protection equipment for medical staff shipped by the federal government — and has received zero ventilators, Polis demonstrated in a PowerPoint presentation.
Some supplies already are en route. The chairman of the state’s manufacturing and sourcing task force told The Denver Post last week that 2 million masks were being shipped to Denver from China; those will be examined at Colorado State University before being put into use. And Taiwan is sending 2 million masks to the United States — including 100,000 earmarked for Colorado — which should arrive next week, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner announced Wednesday.
These supplies are needed now because the surge in patients is coming — and it’s only a matter of when it happens, Polis said.
Scott Bookman, the state’s incident commander for COVID-19, said a surge of coronavirus patients may overwhelm the state’s hospitals sometime between April and July. He gave specific numbers and deadlines on a list of “wildly important goals” that the state needs to hit in order to prevent the health care system from being overrun:
- The total number of Tier 1 critical care beds needs to go from 1,849 to 5,000 by April 18
- Total number of Tier 3 surge beds (located in arenas, warehouses, stadiums) needs to increase from 0 to 2,000 by April 18
- Total number of non-acute Tier 4 surge beds (dorm rooms, hotel rooms, other lodging) needs to increase from 0 to 10,000 by May 15
“This plan, plus drastic social distancing measures, will allow us to deal with the surge,” Bookman said.
Polis on Wednesday also announced he was extending mandatory school closures through April 30 across the state, consistent with federal guidance. He previously said it’s unlikely schools will return at all this school year. Districts have begun the switch to remote learning.
The governor continued to urge people to avoid going to mountain communities — either to stay at a second home or to recreate — because the high country simply can’t handle more patients.
“This is not a vacation,” Polis said, mirroring a phrase he has used throughout the outbreak. “This is a pandemic.”
State health officials announced 80 people have now died of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory illness causes by the virus. Another 620 have been hospitalized and 3,342 people confirmed with the illness. There have also been 17 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities.
Nearly 19,000 people have been tested, with Polis touting Colorado as having one of the highest rates of testing in the country.
Throughout the outbreak, Polis and health officials have acknowledged that the number of cases announced is far lower than actual totals due to the lack of mass testing, which the state’s Innovation Response Team Task Force is working toward.
Some additional test kits may be coming soon. Englewood-based Aytu Bioscience said in a news release that 100,000 rapid test kits — which can give results for COVID-19 in 10 minutes or less — arrived from Hong Kong and will be distributed soon to states across the country. The company did not say how many tests would stay in Colorado, but indicated another 500,000 kits have been ordered and should be in the U.S. in the next few weeks.
The governor on Monday said the closure of bars and restaurants two weeks ago appears to have slowed the spread of the novel coronavirus, saying the state’s case count went from doubling every two days to now doubling nearly every five. The effects from the statewide stay-at-home order, which began last Thursday, won’t be seen for at least another week, he said.
While April 11 marks the end of the state’s stay-at-home mandate, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Tuesday said he would extend his city’s order until April 30. The move came after President Donald Trump this week pushed back federal social distancing guidelines until that same date.