More than three and a half months after the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Colorado, and just as the state is beginning to reopen, Gov. Jared Polis is showing concern that new outbreaks are on the horizon. 

“I’m worried the virus could break through here in Colorado because it has in other states recently,” he said during a press briefing on Thursday. “And all we can do to contain it is make sure we don’t provide the social environment in which it thrives. It’s simply a function of behavior.” 

That social environment, the governor noted, was present recently in Boulder, where University of Colorado students threw large parties to celebrate the end of the school year. Over the past week, 108 new COVID-19 cases have been reported among that student population. “It’s in a subcommunity of Boulder right now of students who violated public health guidance,” Polis said. “And it risks becoming a community-wide outbreak if people aren’t following the right precautions.” 

Compared to its neighbors, Colorado has seen encouraging case data in recent weeks: while states like Arizona and Utah have seen sharp increases, the Centennial State’s current numbers are less worrisome—though they do show a slight uptick in infection. According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, new cases are steadily being reported here, though at a significantly lower rate than we saw in March and April.

As of June 17, 29,673 cases of COVID-19 had been reported, up from 29,442 the day before; so far, 1,631 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 have died in Colorado.

The governor’s concern comes just days after he relaxed restrictions across the state. On June 16, he said bars will soon be able to reopen at 25 percent capacity and indoor gatherings up to 100 people and outdoor gatherings up to 175 will be allowed so long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. Summer camps will also reopen soon and casinos are already welcoming patrons back. 

While Polis noted that “Coloradans deserve our freedoms” and the importance of these businesses reopening, he also said he expects to see more cases here, especially as the impact of the recent large protests becomes more clear. 

“We don’t yet have full information on exactly the level of infection that occurred at protests,” he said. “I think it’s very likely that some people contracted the coronavirus.” He noted that some people who tested positive in the Boulder outbreak also attended protests. 

For those who do show symptoms of the virus in the coming months, Polis unveiled a new telehealth site the state launched on Thursday: The new online portal offers virtual care and a list of resources for people, regardless of their healthcare status, who fear they have contracted COVID-19. 

The novel coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Polis stressed. “This is crunch time…If we go back to living the way we did in January and December, when we took life for granted, the virus will have exponential growth.” 

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.