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'This is our opportunity': El Paso County coroner warns of pivotal moment in fight against COVID-19 in Colorado

If people don't wear masks or take social distancing seriously, Dr. Leon Kelly warns Colorado could see a large spike in new COVID-19 cases.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — As we look around the country, we may consider ourselves lucky right now to live in Colorado. While the state is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the rise is small compared to places like Florida, Arizona and Texas.

But if people don't wear masks or take social distancing seriously, that could change. 

"We have worked incredibly hard to get us where we are. We are at the verge of losing all of that ground that we’ve gained," said Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County coroner and deputy director of the El Paso County Department of Public Health. "I love Colorado, but there’s nothing special about us. There’s nothing magical that happens here that prevents us from being Arizona in three or four weeks."

Kelly has fought the coronavirus pandemic for months. He helped identify the first COVID-19 outbreak and the first COVID-19 death in Colorado. Now he’s warning we’re at a pivotal moment in our fight against virus.

On Tuesday, he spoke to El Paso County Commissioners warning them an uptick in cases could lead to something much worse.

"This is that moment right now when the nerdy guy is showing up to tell you where we are ... to give you the hard cold facts and even though it's difficult for us to accept, for some of us, it doesn't make it any less real," Kelly told commissioners. 

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Colorado has seen an uptick in cases and hospitalizations over the last few weeks. Right now it’s still manageable. But if the trends continue, that could change.

We’re now left with a decision. How do we want our future to look?

Kelly said if people wear masks, wash their hands often and practice social distancing, the spread of the virus can be stopped. That can help schools have in-person learning during the next school year and keep businesses open. 

"If we do nothing different as individuals from today to tomorrow, why would we expect the number to be any different. We’re going to continue in that same direction," Kelly said. "Everyone needs to grow up. Everybody needs to do their part here. If we do that, as we always do in America when we have these big challenges in the past, we can do this. We know that we can."

Take it from a man who’s investigated dozens of COVID-19 deaths: Colorado is still in a solid place right now. The decisions we make today will determine if that remains true a month from now.

"Now is the moment that will turn the tide of this thing," Kelly said. "This will decide over the next few weeks where Colorado as well as the country is going to go."


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