In early November, as Colorado’s coronavirus case numbers surged to levels that now threaten the state’s hospital capacity and could lead to thousands more deaths before the end of the year, Gov. Jared Polis issued a plea to his constituents.
“We’ve got to live like we did in August and September. We just all eased up in October, and started taking it for granted, and got complacent,” Polis said then.
This was like the opening mystery of a pandemic potboiler: What were we collectively doing in late summer that we stopped doing in October? What’s the villain here?
It’s indoor dining at restaurants! It’s large super-spreader events!
The finger-pointing ran in circles. Experts said small household gatherings appeared to be driving the surge in cases. The New York Times published an article, citing data from Colorado, questioning whether that is the case. And the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rebutted the article.
But these debates missed the simpler answer, the common denominator of all the explanations for the case surge.
It’s a matter of movement.
And, by many measures, Coloradans have since the summer been moving around as much as they did pre-pandemic — maybe even more.
“The prerequisite for this current surge has been in place for a while,” said Jude Bayham, a Colorado State University economist who has been studying mobility trends to guide the state’s pandemic response.