Littwin: You make the forecast — could Colorado really be ready to reopen by April 26?

Gov. Jaren Polis answers questions from reporters at the Colorado Convention Center as it is converted into a care site for COVID-19 patients on April 10, 2020. He is aiming to gradually reopen Colorado by April 26. (Photo by Forest Wilson)
Gov. Jared Polis answers questions from reporters at the Colorado Convention Center as it is converted into a care site for COVID-19 patients on April 10, 2020. (Photo by Forest Wilson)

This forecast just in: April 26 will come and April 26 will go, and Colorado will not, sadly, be reopened.

It’s actually more of a prediction than a forecast, and I could definitely be wrong. It has happened before. But when I listen to Jared Polis explain how we might be able to slow-walk a reopening of the state and the state’s economy starting on April 26, I remain skeptical. That’s in part because it’s my nature and, in larger part, because it’s hard to find any experts in the field who think it’s a good idea. Even from those experts who howl every night, just in case.

Which isn’t to say that Polis won’t be a leader in figuring this out. In fact, as The Washington Post reports, it’s the governors and related experts — not the White House — who will probably figure out when and how to reopen the country. One proposed plan is not particularly complex, but is clearly difficult to play out — do sufficient testing to find the infected, install a program that can trace those who have been in contact with the infected and then restrict those clusters rather than the entire country. We’re testing something like 130,000 people a day. Experts say we need something closer to 500,000.

If you know Polis at all, you know the governor is decidedly and determinedly data driven. If the data is not there, we stay shut. When you ask him what metrics he’ll use to make his decision, Polis doesn’t do what Donald Trump did Friday when asked the question: Pointing a finger to his head, Trump said, “The metrics right here. That’s my metrics.”

Maybe it’s coincidence but Polis has never mentioned his TV ratings either.

But it’s obvious that Polis is antsy, and that he really, really, really wants to at least begin the first steps toward a return to something resembling normalcy. We can’t stay locked in forever, and not just because of the cabin-fever factor. The economy — which the early forecasts said would dip deeply in the second quarter, but rebound by the third — is now seeing unemployment numbers that more closely resemble the Great Depression than the more recent Great Recession. In case you’re wondering, that’s not how curves get flattened.

As I watched Polis’s news conference Friday, in which he explained how targeted testing could work without having the luxury — my word, not his — of having sufficient testing kits, The New York Times had this headline leading its web site: “Infections May Spike If Limits Are Eased After 30 Days, U.S. Forecasts.”

In case you don’t remember, it was on March 26 that the Colorado stay-at-home orders were put into place. That’s right, 31 days before April 26.

The Times had gotten hold of projections made jointly by the departments of Homeland Security and of Health and Human Services in response, I guess, to Trump’s hope that he could reopen much of the nation’s economy sometime in early May.

 Trump doesn’t actually have the power to reopen the economy. Governors and mayors make these decisions in our federal system. But Trump does have a powerful platform from which to propose guidelines, and presumably many states would follow them.

They’ll have to look at the latest federal forecast, which offers three models. It’s the middle one — the moderate one — that should most concern Coloradans. Via the report: If the 30-day stay-at-home orders are lifted even as schools remains closed until summer and one fourth of the workplace still works from home, the estimate for the national death toll from the virus would rise to 200,000.

That’s a huge number, and a number much larger than 60,000, which is what the latest models are showing for likely U.S. coronavirus-related deaths. Those numbers come with the stay-at-home orders in effect through most of the country. You may recall that pre-lockdown estimates ranged from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

When Drs. Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx showed us the original models, they said that if we stayed at home, physically distanced and, of course, washed our hands continuously, the number could be significantly lower. And that’s just what happened. For those who say we should have rejected such strict measures, look to Sweden, which did exactly that and has seen its numbers of those infected and those who have died skyrocket.

Forecasts roll with the tide and with ever-evolving data. Ask any economist or any politician or anyone who can explain what flattening the curve means. I asked Colorado House Speaker KC Becker, who desperately wants a forecast as to when the legislature will reopen, about Polis’s proposal. She said it was aspirational and inspirational and that Coloradans need inspiration. But she didn’t exactly endorse it. What she said was that forecasts are just that — forecasts — and offered as evidence the difficulty in finding one that can accurately help with the legislature’s need to compose an already-too-difficult-to-write budget.

“First,” she said, “we were told there would be a V curve, and then a U curve and then an L curve and we might be on a W curve by now.”

What worries me is that we might be on an X curve.

There’s the economy, which is much more than just a GDP but your job and my job and our families’ financial well-being, and there are the health risks. There’s no easy way, and no certain way, to reconcile the two, although the numbers show poor people get hit hardest in either case.

So, what should we do in Colorado now?

I don’t claim any expertise. But from everything I read — from the  Center for American Progress on the left to the American Enterprise Institute on the right — we need widespread testing.  I talked to one Colorado expert, Glen Mays, who is chair and professor in the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy in the Colorado School of Public Health. He told me he didn’t see how the April 26 date could work. He, too, cited testing. “My guess is there’s a way to start relaxing restrictions while still having strong controls,” he said. “But it takes a lot more testing and a lot more targeting than we’re capable of doing now.”

But if April 26 is too soon, when is it not too soon? More than 18,000 Americans have died so far from the virus. No matter which direction we take, many more will die. These are not easy choices. The risks are high whatever is done. Even Trump recognizes as much.

“I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision,” Trump said Friday of when he’ll propose reopening the nation. “But I would say without question it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

I’m sure of one thing, at least: Jared Polis can relate.

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  1. We need widespread antibody testing too. I am virtually certain i had covid19 in Mid-Janaury here in Colorado.

    I Had flu shot in Nov, and STILL Had BAD bout with 4-day 101-102 fever, horrible body aches, diarrhea for first 2 days, and a breath sucking dry cough that had me frequently gasping for breath, and which lasted 6 weeks.

    I am a DU prof. DU is a VERY likely entry point for the virus with 300+ Chinese students, nearly 1,000 students who had just come back from fall study abroad, tons of young adults and a yuppie workforce likely more fit and healthy than many workforces and therefore a much likelier place for the virus to remain under radar for a while, essentially the OPPOSITE context of a nursing home where the ALLEGED first cases in USA were found.

    Don’t believe me that i already had COVID19 in Colorado in mid-January?

    Read this article from The Colorado Sun that quotes multiple health experts who say virus was very likely in Colorado already in January=>

    We need antibody tests now — so those of us who’ve already had COVID19 and are essentially immune to the virus can get a pass — and go back to working face to face.

  2. Differing views and opinions on reopening, depending on a person’s temperament, character and world view. Some would like to re-open now, believing that herd immunity is best way forward. Others would like to stay closed until November for partisan reasons. And, still others would like to be in lock down until there is a safe and effective vaccine.

  3. Christof:

    It is possible there were cases before the identified “first case” in January. You may have been one of them. And we do need antibody testing.

    For a skeptic’s take on your early January ailment being COVID-19, take a look at science writer Mark Sumner at Daily Kos: his most recent take on the “early COVID-19” possibilities is: “This zombie theory about early spread of coronavirus needs to die once and for all”

  4. Thanks for sharing that Daily.Kos piece. I strongly disagree with the author. The biggest thing, to me is: How can we say COVID19 was not here already if we were not even looking for it? How can you say something doesn’t exist if you did not/do not look for it?

    It’s 100% implausible that the first confirmed case of COVID19 was truly “the first”. one in the USA, in my view. What are the odds of that? I would say they approach 0, or even less than zero.

    This DailyKos author is simply the type of person that likes to challenge conventional wisdom — and he does so in typical, patronizing fashion, as if he, in “deferring” to “better” more “expert” “logical” “thinking” on this all has nailed it ALL. And yet, he critiques the “Zombie” theorists for exactly the same thing. That is, he employs many of exactly the same rhetorical approaches that he blasts others for using.

    I do think it is very plausible that especially at a place like DU COVID19 could have stayed under the radar for awhile. Lots of very young people, very few of them likely to be hospitalized for COVID19 due to their young age, yuppie privileged lives, etc.

    I did go to doctor after 3 weeks of hacking. She told me, “This is a very bad year, worst I can remember”, when I asked if others were also suffering like me,.

    I personally don’t believe the “zombie” theory should be “killed.” It should be thoroughly investigated and pursued, then, if there is no proof, perhaps killed. This goes to the next time we have a pandemic: If COVID19 was circulating earlier than people say, we need to know so that the next time a pandemic develops somewhere else, we start testing RIGHT AWAY.

  5. Sort of related to “opening” the economy here: Has anyone given any thought to how the ratchet embedded in TABOR will play out when our economy comes back to anything even semi-normal? Will any politician have the guts to try and de-BRUCE this part of TABOR? Will we, as citizens, have the intelligence to vote for it?

  6. Obviously the nation’s testing capabilities remain inadequate to support the type of contact tracing needed to keep transmission rates low. Might that change in the next couple of weeks? Even if does do we have the systems in place to conduct the contact tracing? Up until now the we have had a state-by-state and even county-by-county response that is not up to the task. The national response has been far worse. Too little too late with the President offering incoherent mixed messages and inaccurate information. As for a “herd immunity” strategy the actual level of immunity in people with a positive antibody test is unclear. Sweden is trying that so perhaps we’ll have some idea how that works in a few weeks.
    I know one thing for certain. President Trump is an incompetent jerk and I will not vote for him regardless of what happens between now and November. That said I certainly won’t advocate for a shut down until November simply as a means to get rid of him.

  7. We absolutely need antibody testing as soon as possible. It is the only way to get things moving in the right direction again. Testing needs to ramp up quickly with scalability at the heart of it. As for me, if I have antibodies I will be in line to donor plasma as often as they will allow. We need to find a path forward. I would love to start hearing these sort of plans from our local and federal leaders. Knowing the facts and trends about new cases, hospitalization and death toll is important but it should be paired with thought leadership. All the best to everyone as we walk forward in the coming days, weeks and months.

  8. If you think that immunity testing is an option here, perhaps you should look at what other countries are finding. Research in South Korea shows that people can have covid-19, “recover” and have negative tests, and then test positive again. This means that they could still infect others without knowing. Others are testing positive after 30 days in isolation.

    They should be tracking data and outcomes egarding the long-term impact of those who are waiting to receive medical care during the shutdown.

  9. Wait till medical & scientific people in the know say it is fairly safe to “reopen” COLORADO, and then maybe only some cities or counties.

  10. There will come a moment when the politicians will not be making the decision.

    We are citizens, not prisoners.

  11. If the virus is not controled by testing and the development of a vaccine, who is going to be available to work and buy and provide goods and services?

  12. This is ridiculous. I was a presumptive case and sick nearly a month. You don’t shut down entire states for a “virus.” The news is and always has been fake and not a reliable source for information. most people know that all the major networks are owned by one group of people and they are all going to steer the narrative and whatever direction they’d like for it to go. My mother is a retired surgeon, My mother-in-law is an RN, I have one sister that is head charge nurse in an ER in Texas. Not to mention countless friends in the industry. I’ll say this is not what the so-called experts are claiming it to be. I believe there is a group of people that knows exactly what this is and exactly how it got here but the mainstream media as well as articles will never tell you this fact.

  13. I often wonder if I hsd it, but it was back in October. But I was hitneith a 104 degree fever and all of the symptoms. But that was October.
    What I dont trust about politicians is they are under pressure to reopen by the wealthy business owners who donated a lot of money to them to get them elected in the first place. Big corporations don’t care about anything but their money and they want us to reopen as soon as possible so they can be sure to make enough money to own a different Mercedes for every day of the week and two on Sundays.

  14. We have been administering flu shots for at least 30 years and the flu is still with us. We can’t shut the economy down waiting for a vaccine because it probably wouldn’t help when the next strain of covid19 goes around then we are in the same mess.

    I agree with Cristof. I believe covid19 was here late last year and I believe I had it but a mild case. I had just gotten back from Disney world in late November when about 1 week later I got sick. It started in my throat then into my upper lungs. I remember having severe headaches and body aches for about 2 days. Never had a temperature. Had a cough for several weeks. I didn’t have a cold or the flu. My symptoms were different than anything I’ve had before.

    I believe antibodies testing would be ideal. Let’s put the immune back to work. Let’s get kids back in school. Further quarantine the high risk population.

  15. If we don’t we’re going to run out of food and supplies long after covid-19 is gone. If our economy takes we tank. We need to stripper clothes thrown in the washing machine go take a shower and disinfect our shoes every time we leave the house mask should be mandatory gloves should be mandatory. All the essential workers are having to do that. So the rest of us can do the same thing. If they cut your unemployment check then you’ll see all the people wanting to go back to where it can be wearing proper protective gear.

  16. 4/26–let’s be hopeful we are set free–Boulder has been going down for the past 3 days–we had our peak a few days ago. Coloradans were on this lockdown fast and it’s worked.
    The governor of Florida has put in a HUGE order of antibody test, but does not know when he will get them. My friend in Miami had the antibody test and came back positive as did 3 of his friends and they were all asymptomatic. If you have the IgG antibody you’re exposed and are immune. His doctor told him he can’t get or or pass it to anyone as long as it doesn’t mutate. Test was 95% accurate. We need to press Gov. Polis about this. Why doesn’t he talk about or have an order of test come in? Jackson Hole had a donor that stepped up to pay for 500 tests for healthcare worker there. Google clinical trail done in Telluride. Why wouldn’t Polis have jumped on this company to get more test for Colorado? I’m getting an antibody test next week in Lafayette at Complete Care of Colorado- Dr. Jeffrey Gappa. $199.00 each–results in 3 days. He only gets about 10 tests a week right now. Abbott Labs makes the test. We need more data and this will certainly be a way for any of us who wonder have I had it to now know. Data= giving us more info to know how deadly this disease really is.

  17. I would just like to say that our governor’s are doing an amazing job. They at least are trying so hard to keep our states healthy and safe. It’s a difficult position to be in. As a citizen in Colorado. I also feel that I had this virus back in February. It took me about a month to start feeling better. I hope and pray everyday for everyone in the world to get well and feel better. Pray that the people who are caring for us stay healthy. Why are we so out of control? We are desperate but we need to have faith and patience. I live with 5adults and a 2yr old. In a 2 bdrm basement apt. We have no way to quarantine ourselves. We barely keep from stepping on each other. Our place is very small. It’s very confining but we are trying to make the best of it. If we have to quarantine. We will have to go to our car. This virus is really bad. Stay positive! Stay in and take care of yourselves.

  18. I had a reaction,last fall. In October 2019 to a Flu Vaccination I still have continuing complications through today I wrote Dr at Kaiser Permanente and was examined in February 2020 . I was told I had something that was not related to the injection I have the same symptom’s as back in 2019. I would be more comfortable if I can get tested I have
    followed the stay at home rules and left only 1 time to pickup medication at Kaiser Permanente .

  19. To Jack Post : Why in the HELL couldn’t you leave your political/ partisan views out of your comments ? ! ! Millions of
    people disagree with you so keep your political bias to yourself. . You just spread hatred at a time when our nation and our state do not need any more snarky and spiteful comments.

  20. Covid Tests per 1000 people:
    Switzerland: 23.4
    Germany: 20.9
    Italy: 18.9
    Ireland: 18.5
    Canada: 11.4
    South Korea: 10.4
    United States: 9.3

    Incompetence is apolitical.

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