Vaccine Lotto Colorado

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference Wednesday, July 7, 2021, to introduce the fifth and final $1-million winner in the state's vaccine lottery at the governor's mansion in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Gov. Jared Polis has been walking a high wire for a year and a half in his handling of COVID — and there have been plenty of hecklers down below. We have been among them at times, arguably, though we’d like to think of our input as constructive criticism.

Whichever way he has leaned, it inevitably has drawn fire from some quarters. Some of it has been warranted and continues to be. There have been plenty of missteps along the way, requiring corrections.

Yet, while the Polis administration’s approach has been far from perfect, the governor deserves credit of late for trying to place the pandemic in perspective and for keeping the state government’s response measured. Rather than give in to all-out panic, he recently has appeared mindful of the essential need to balance many competing considerations in navigating the stubborn virus’ twists and turns.

Polis would be wise to stay the course. He should resist calls for more drastic and unwarranted action that would risk throwing Colorado’s economy back into turmoil and society into upheaval.

His administration has let local governments and school districts call their own shots, for the most part, in dealing with the pandemic. That makes sense and is as it should be. Local elected officials are the boots on the ground; they know best what their communities need and are in the best position to respond to their concerns. They can balance advice from their local public health officials with the needs of local businesses, schools and many other stakeholders. They can take into account the basic sensibilities of their residents.

The same goes for private property like restaurants, offices and other employers or houses of worship. Let them take the lead on finding the right mix of measures — testing, vaccinations, masks — for their premises.

As hospitalizations rise amid a surging COVID caseload, expectations also rise for the governor as well as local government authorities to “do more.” The governor has in fact taken some decisive steps in the face of a climbing COVID count.

On Thursday, he issued an executive order allowing state COVID-immunized Coloradans 18 and older to get boosters. That’s out of step with U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines that allow boosters only for seniors and for younger people with a high risk of exposure to the virus or who have special medical conditions.

Polis’ order sidesteps that by declaring “all Coloradans who are 18 years of age and older are at high risk and qualify for a booster shot.” He has expressed frustration in the past with federal foot dragging in authorizing types and uses of vaccines in fighting COVID, and his spokesman returned to that theme Thursday.

“The governor has been disappointed with the overly complex message from the CDC and the FDA on boosters and won’t allow that to harm Coloradans who want the additional protection,” spokesman Conor Cahill said. “The governor is confident that this clarification is well within the guidance of the CDC and FDA.”

Another step the governor took this week was to work with hospitals statewide to increase overall capacity by 500 beds as projections indicate hospitalizations will continue to rise. It’s worth noting, though, that COVID is but one factor straining hospitals right now; staffing shortages as well as other ailments and scheduled procedures also have filled beds. As The Associated Press reported Thursday in The Gazette, only 17% of hospital beds are occupied by those with COVID, according to the state health department.

Yet, Polis by and large has avoided overreaching measures in recent months. He thus far has rebuffed talk of imposing feel-good, do-little restrictions like another statewide mask mandate. He has resolved to leave such matters to local authorities. Good.

We took strong exception to some of the more stringent and sweeping measures his administration ordered amid COVID surges last year. With the latest surge, the executive branch’s response has been more focused. This time around, he seems less inclined to swat a fly with a sledgehammer — no matter how much some may want him to. It’s a scalpel instead of a chainsaw.

The governor tweeted on Tuesday a key reason for the policy shift since last year’s restrictions shuttered businesses and crippled the economy: “The big difference now: 62.1% of total population is fully vaccinated and 86.9% of those most vulnerable 65+. Sadly, even tragically, too many Coloradans haven’t yet chosen to get protected. But for the large vaccinated majority, the risk is ten times or more less than last Dec.”

In other words, people should be freer to choose precautions that are now available — or to take greater risks and face the possible consequences.

The persistent pandemic seems to have a mind of its own. But so does each Coloradan. Let’s respect that.

The Gazette editorial board

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