Virus Outbreak Colorado

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis holds up a face covering to make a point Friday during a news conference to announce expanded eligibility for state residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Associated Press

More Coloradans will be able to access the vaccines against the coronavirus by the end of next week, but Gov. Jared Polis won’t say if he planned to allow the statewide mandatory mask order to expire.

Starting on Friday, the vaccine will be offered to people 60 and older, food and grocery workers and people between the ages of 16 to 59 who have two or more high-risk conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, are pregnant or have other medical issues.

Polis and other Colorado officials also said the state also should start seeing thousands more doses of the two existing vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, over the next three weeks, and hope to place an order for 45,500 of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine by week’s end, which only requires a single dose.

“That’s how this ends,” Polis said. “People in their 70s and 80s are able to go out without fear once the vaccine takes hold two weeks after the second dose, but it’s not over yet.”

The governor said that about 67% of Coloradans over the age of 70 have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, along with about 37% of people between the ages of 65 and 69.

As far as his statewide mask order, Polis said it’s still one of the best defenses against spreading the virus, but stopped short of saying he would renew it when the current executive order expires at the end of next weekend.

“It’s one of our most powerful tools in fighting the pandemic,” Polis said. “A simple mask is about 50% effective. Please take advantage of it and use it regardless of whether it’s recommended or ordered. It’s the smart thing to do. I just want you to wear a mask so we can save lives and end the pandemic.”

As things stand right now, only four counties in the state are still in the more restrictive “orange” level alert on the state’s COVID-19 threat dial, including Ouray and San Miguel counties. Several other counties in the region — Delta, Garfield and Moffat — have gone to the less restrictive “blue” level, and Mesa, Montrose and Rio Blanco counties remain in the “yellow” category, although Mesa could go to blue sometime in the next week or two.

As of Friday afternoon, the county had less than 100 new infections in the previous seven-day period, with a positively rate of 2.5%, enough to qualify the county to move to the less restrictive “blue” level, but only if it can remain at or below those levels for another week, according to the Mesa County Department of Public Health.

Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman, who oversees the Colorado National Guard and heads the state’s vaccination task force, said that by the middle to end of March the state will expand community vaccination centers in select places around the state, including at the Grand Junction Convention Center.

That doesn’t mean, however, that people eligible to get the vaccine also can’t start getting on waiting lists at area pharmacies and health care providers that are providing shots, Sherman said.

“Our goal is, once (vaccine) allocation increases we want to get these to tier one sites, so that’s 5,000 to 6,000 shots administered per day,” Sherman said. “We certainly think that, into April, we’ll see that allocation increase so we can get to that level.”

By then, the state hopes to add more groups to be able to access vaccines, including Coloradans 50 and older, and people who work in higher education, restaurants, manufacturing, transit, human services and other essential services

To learn more about the new eligibility phases, go to covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine.

After these next two phases, state officials expect to open up the vaccine to the general public. Exactly when that will occur will depend on how quickly people who are eligible can get vaccinated, and how many doses the state can get.