Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday afternoon that starting next week, Colorado people with COVID-19 who are at high risk of developing severe illness will not need a doctor’s referral for antibodies to keep them out of hospitals.
Polis has made expanding access to monoclonal antibodies one of the pillars of the state’s strategy to prevent depletion of hospital beds in the coming weeks, along with opening more beds and encouraging all adults to get booster shots.
But the governor has resisted reinstating public health measures such as bans on camouflage or restricting businesses, despite calls from local health officials for more aggressive action. On Monday, health departments representing Jefferson, Adams and Arapaho counties, which have lobbied for Polis to issue a new mandate for the use of public indoor masks, will consider putting their own in place.
Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped slightly to 1,518 on Friday, but facilities were still under pressure. Two out of every five hospitals reporting to the state expected there won’t be enough intensive care beds next week, and 45% said they were facing a shortage of staff.
The virus remains widespread in the state less than a week before Thanksgiving meetings. Roughly one in 62 Coloradans is currently infected with COVID-19, and that number rises to one in 38 if you count only unvaccinated people.
Rochelle Walenski, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommended booster vaccinations for all adults on Friday afternoon, essentially bringing the rest of the country in line with what Colorado and several other states have already said.
About 31% of fully vaccinated adults in Colorado have already received a booster shot.
Polis, speaking Friday from the Colorado Emergency Operations Center, acknowledged the trade-off between making it as easy as possible to get antibody treatment and allowing some people who do not qualify to slip away.
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made versions of proteins that the body makes to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus and, if taken early, can reduce the risk of hospitalization by about 70%. They are intended for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
The state is short of doses for everyone who tests positive, but the honor system has generally performed well during the pandemic, and people without a doctor they visit regularly are not receiving antibody treatment right now, he said.
“We’ve done this before with the phased introduction of the vaccine,” said Polis.
To be eligible for antibody treatment, people must test positive for COVID-19 and report their symptoms have appeared within the past 10 days. If a person is sick enough to be hospitalized, it is too late to help him with monoclonal antibodies.
They must also confirm that one of the following conditions is met:
- Age 65 and over
- Obesity or overweight
- Chronic kidney disease
- Compromised immune system
- Heart disease or high blood pressure
- Chronic lung disease, including moderate to severe asthma
- Sickle cell anemia
- Neural developmental disorders (eg, cerebral palsy) or complex genetic conditions
- Use of medical technology (such as a breathing tube or feeding tube)
The policy has urged everyone with symptoms to get tested so that they can receive treatment in the early days of the illness, if appropriate.
“Monoclonal antibodies (treatment) are only good when people know they are positive,” he said.
Jeffco County Tribunal Considering Mask Orders
Polis has rejected the idea of restoring a mandate for statewide use of masks or requiring proof of vaccination in potentially crowded locations, as asked by several Denver health departments in a letter sent last week.
He described wearing masks in public as an act of “decency” to protect unvaccinated people and others at high risk of illness, but asked the public not to demonize those who come to different conclusions about whether to slow the spread of the virus.
“I don’t think the motives of either side should be questioned,” he said.
Evidence consistently points to mask wearing as an effective strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19, albeit not as effective as widespread vaccination.
Jefferson County Health Service sent a separate letter to Polis on Thursday, citing 16 COVID-19 deaths among county residents in the previous week, and announced that its Health Council will consider a mandate to use local masks on Monday.
The Three Counties County Health Department’s Health Board plans to hold a vote Monday afternoon on the order that masks must be worn in all public areas in Adams and Arapaho counties.
Indoor mask regulations are already in force along the Front Ridge in Boulder and Larimer Counties.
“Governor. Polis, we all need to do more to address the current trends that are likely to grow in the coming weeks with vacation travel and indoor mobility, ”the Jeffco Health Council said in a letter. Trends are going in the wrong direction and we implore you to take additional mitigation measures immediately before someone else unnecessarily takes their life. ”
Finding additional hospital beds
Another major policy of Polis to prevent overcrowding in hospitals is to increase the number of available beds. He called on state hospitals and nursing homes to find a total of 500 emergency and lowered beds over the next 20 days.
The problem is not a lack of beds or rooms to accommodate them, but qualified people to take care of the patients in them. The government recruiting center is working to find nurses and others for these beds, Polis said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched a team to help at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo and is coordinating another team that will travel to Fort Collins next week.
About 20 nurses, respiratory therapists and other US Department of Defense staff will be referred to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital.
As of Thursday morning, UCHealth has treated 377 COVID-19 patients, including 100 in hospitals in northern Colorado, said Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital and UCHealth Medical Center in the Rocky Mountains in Loveland. According to him, the arrival of the team will free up some of the staff to provide assistance in nearby hospitals, as well as ease the pressure on the Poudre Valley.
“We are so grateful that this team will assist us in providing exceptional assistance in northern Colorado,” he said in a press release. “We expect this additional support and other plans we already have to make a significant difference.”