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Colorado Governor Hopes Downward Trend Of COVID-19 Cases Continues


The governors on Thursday's call with the president included Jared Polis of Colorado. He's a Democrat elected in 2018. We called him on Skype last evening and, of course, we found him sheltering at home with his family.

JARED POLIS: Thank you. You can tell I'm at home if you hear the kids in the background screaming but - like we all are during this stay-at-home time.

INSKEEP: Governor Polis knows many of his constituents are working from home or no longer working. He also knows Colorado has fewer COVID-19 cases than many other states. And he sounded eager for the moment when business can safely increase. Polis says the federal guidelines he heard on the call with the president resemble a plan his state had adopted the day before. We talked through the federal recommendations, for example, that a state should start reopening after coronavirus cases have declined for 14 days.

How close are you to that benchmark?

POLIS: Well, a downward trajectory, you know, is obviously up for interpretation. It means that there might be some up day, you know, as long as the overall trend is down. Since our stay-at-home order, we've certainly been trending even to down. We hope that that accelerates in the coming days. But, you know, we need to see, you know, something like a period of time where very clearly the trajectory is going downward.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that you in Colorado might be near a date when you might start putting these steps into action?

POLIS: I sure hope so. I mean, folks here, you know, can't stay at home that much longer, and we just need to get all the protocols in place so people can be safer during their limited, you know, movements out and about and at least able to support themselves.

INSKEEP: But when we talk about being safer, of course, a vital factor here is testing to keep track of who is sick, to do contact tracing to try to contain this disease when it gets to the point where it can be contained. And in the federal guidelines, there's an interesting line in this document. It says core state preparedness responsibilities and then describes the ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites, the ability to contact trace. Can you do that or are you close to being able to do that?

POLIS: Well, sure, we can do it. We have been doing it. It's a question of at what level. I don't think, you know, for folks who are saying everybody needs to be tested, that could take many, many, many months, and it's not even a matter of testing everybody because you have to be tested, you know, once or twice a week. That's not the goal. It's just having enough testing in enough places where you can get a sense of what's going on, you can quicker jump on things and, yes, we have ability to do contact tracing. And we'll have more capability of doing contact tracing in two weeks, in four weeks and six weeks. It keeps going up.

INSKEEP: I was interested also that it's described as a core state preparedness responsibility. It sounds like the federal government is saying that is your job, testing is not a federal responsibility. And, of course, they've been blamed for slowly distributing tests. It is your responsibility. Do you take on that responsibility?

POLIS: Well, most other countries are doing it nationally. I wish that we had more help from the federal government. And then the frustrating thing about being at the state level is we have to compete against other states. That drives the prices up. It strains the supplies. Of course, it would be better to have a national testing strategy. There's no question about that. But we're not going to let the lack of one stand in the way of Colorado doing what's right.

INSKEEP: It's clear to you there isn't a national strategy then.

POLIS: We haven't - you know, I mean, they've sent a couple of swabs here and there, you know, a couple thousand - I mean, they - you know, they haven't hurt us, but they - you know, in any material way, they haven't helped us. We've largely built our capabilities at our state lab, our hospitals, our private providers, suppliers from South Korea and across the world.

INSKEEP: Are you on your own?

POLIS: We know we can't count on a lot of help. And we welcome - we treasure any help the federal government can provide. I wish they provided more, but we're doing the best here we can in Colorado to contain this and get back to a sense of normalcy.

INSKEEP: OK. So you are going to be opening some businesses you hope in coming weeks. Is that a fair timeframe?

POLIS: Yeah. I mean, we're - you know, there's business being done now. In fact, some of the outbreaks we've had have been in those areas. A meat processing plant in Weld County that employs 3,000 people has become a hot spot on its own right. And we expect that as these restrictions roll off, there could very well be additional hot spots in industries or clusters or communities, and we'll need to move quickly in those areas.

INSKEEP: How might it be different over the next, say, six months? Starting at the moment when you begin reopening things and going out over the months to follow, how might life look different than it did before the pandemic?

POLIS: So Coloradans see this now, and I think in much of the country, they see it now when you go to the grocery store, right? I hope most of the country is doing this. We're doing this, where you see spacing in the lines. There's additional sanitary considerations being made. We're increasing the number of employees that are wearing masks. So those kinds of things that you're seeing in the businesses that are open today are very likely to be similar to the kinds of things you see in the businesses that are opening in the future.

INSKEEP: And are there some events that just can't happen anymore or can't happen until there's a vaccine?

POLIS: Well, the large gatherings, right? What does it mean to play to an empty stadium or to play to a stadium in a diminished capacity where people can be spaced? But until we get over this hump with this virus, it's difficult to see how 60,000, 80,000 people can safely congregate in close quarters.

INSKEEP: Final thing - can you see an economic rebound by the summer or fall?

POLIS: Well, this summer is imminent here. We're talking - what? - a month till May. So I think it's going to take a while to bounce back from this thing.

INSKEEP: Meaning that the rest of the year could be grim economically.

POLIS: Well, yeah. I mean, I hope we're on the upswing after we get through this urgent phase of combating the virus, but it's going be a long haul to get back to where we were.

INSKEEP: Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, thanks so much.

POLIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.