Gov. Jared Polis appeared somber in his office on Wednesday as he said the number of suspected COVID-19 cases in Colorado was growing and the disease is likely spreading "stealthily" around the state.
"I can say with a high degree of confidence this is going to get worse before it gets better," he said. "Until there is a vaccine, until there is a cure, some incidence of coronavirus is here to stay."
The announcment came on a day when several more large events in the state were cancelled and the University of Colorado said classes would be taught online for the rest of the semester.
It also came as the state announced it had evidence of "community spread" in the high country, or cases of the virus being picked up by someone with no recent travel outside of the state or country.
With the number of cases rising, Polis said he would consider restricting large gatherings if such a step becomes necessary to protect the public.
For now, he urged people ages 60 and older, and those with chronic health conditions, to avoid any uncessary trips to mountain communities that have seen cases.
It was a dramatic recommendation from the governor of a state that has a large ski and tourism industry in the mountains. But Polis said he's particularly worried about the course the virus could take in resort areas that don't have the level of health resources that urban areas do.
"We know that in particular these community health care systems in our mountain communities have limited surge capacity, and they are also generally at higher altitudes," he said.
He labeled Pitkin County, where there are nine suspected cases of COVID-19, as a hotspot for the virus in Colorado.
He added the virus appears to be hitting mountain communities in Colorado the hardest, but that it would not affect them "exclusively."
"I can't stress enough that our government alone, our public health system alone cannot stop or slow the spread of the virus," Polis said. "What is required is individual responsibility and action."
He also vowed to provide regular updates about how the virus affecting Colorado, and what actions residents should take.
"The most important person who can help stop the spread of the virus is you," he said staring into about a dozen news cameras at the press conference. "We all have a role to play."
State health officials continue to recommend that residents regularly wash their hands and stay home if they are ill.
On Wednesday, the Polis administration ordered employers in some service industries to provide paid sick leave to workers who come down with flu symptoms and need to be tested for COVID-19.
Polis hopes the move will take the pressure off some employees who might otherwise go to work with the virus.
He said the state is also working on new visitation restrictions at nursing homes to protect some of the most vulnerable residents from the spread of the virus.
Other actions the Polis administration is taking include:
- Allowing residents ages 65 and older to renew their drivers licenses online to avoid exposure to the virus at DMVs.
- Opening a drive-through testing facility for the coronavirus in Denver. The facility can be used by residents who receive a doctor's note.
- Advising schools to close for at least 72 hours if a student or staff member tests positive for the virus. The school should then conduct a cleaning and an investigation.