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'Just As We Were Making Progress': Gov. Jared Polis Says He Fears Hundreds Of New COVID-19 Cases Due To Protests

DENVER (CBS4) - Gov. Jared Polis says he strongly supports the message of protesters who are calling for change following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but with COVID-19 still a major concern he's worried about the health risks Coloradans are taking who've been gathering in large groups over the past few days in order to get their message heard. He said he's been up at night worrying.

"One of my greatest fears in watching the events over the last weekend is that so many people gathering in one place together will increase the spread of coronavirus across our nation, here in Colorado," Polis said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference. "Only in the coming weeks will we see the impact of these large gatherings, but health experts tell me that it could result in hundreds of new cases and untold pain, death and suffering just as we were making progress."

Day 3 Of George Floyd Protests In Denver: Saturday, May 30
A third day of protesting in downtown Denver was brought to an early end after Mayor Michael Hancock enacted a curfew to prevent more vandalism and violence. (credit: Evan Semón)

Polis said he's glad he saw most protesters wearing masks at what he calls the "justified" demonstrations and thanked several state lawmakers who took it upon themselves to distribute masks at the large protests that took place in Denver. He also re-emphasized the message sent out earlier by Denver's mayor that anyone who was involved in the physical protests go get tested for coronavirus approximately a week afterwards.

"You should get tested anytime you develop symptoms, of course, but if you haven't developed symptoms, about 7 days after you've marched in a protest you should go in for a free, quick easy test," Polis said. "That's the way that we can act to capture earlier some of the folks that might be contagious without knowing it, or mildly symptomatic, to prevent this from being a major setback for our state with regard to coronavirus."

On Monday Colorado State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy echoed that time frame for protesters getting tested, saying a week "really allows enough time for that individual to potentially test positive."

"But also, ideally trying to catch them early enough in their infection that they become aware of their infection and can stay home and prevent transmission to others," she said.

Free testing is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Pepsi Center as well any of the dozens of other testing locations around the state.

Like Polis, Herlihy also spoke about the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 with large gatherings.

"One of the numbers that the governor has quoted recently is that at any given time in Colorado we estimate, given the current numbers we're seeing in the state, that about one in 300 Coloradans is actively infectious with this virus. Certainly when large numbers gather there is the potential for the virus to be transmitted, and typically we estimate that it's about two weeks from the time of exposure, until those cases are reported to public health," she said. "So it will take about two weeks for us to know whether there is increased transmission that potentially is associated with large gatherings right now."

Polis did take a moment on Tuesday to discourage anyone who is in the higher risk category for COVID-19 to avoid large gatherings like the protests completely.

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