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Mar. 20—Colorado will further relax the COVID-19 restrictions managed through the state’s color-coded dial next week, with plans to ease the statewide mask order in two weeks, then turn over control of most public health orders to local governments in mid-April.

The proposed changes to the dial include reopening bars in most parts of the state for the first time since last summer and lifting all statewide limits on the size of personal gatherings.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday evening released the draft plan for what it calls “Dial 3.0,” and asked for public feedback on the proposed changes, which will take effect — with possible modifications — Wednesday.

The main thrust of the new plan: making it easier for counties to reach Level Green, the lowest end of the dial, and removing most virus-related restrictions in counties at that stage of the dial, including any limits on dining capacity at restaurants.

Further changes would allow bars to reopen in Level Blue counties at reduced capacity and lift all capacity limits on outdoors events in Level Green and Blue counties.

The plan released Friday evening also calls for a modified statewide mask order to be issued April 4. That directive would lift mask requirements in Level Green counites for everyone except for students 11 to 18 years old through the end of the school year.

Private businesses and local governments still could issue their own mask mandates.

For Levels Blue, Yellow, Orange and Red, the mask mandate would remain in place for that same group of students and for any indoor public places with 10 or more people present. The existing state mask order would remain in place for any counties reaching Level Purple, the highest phase.

Under this plan, Dial 3.0 would remain in effect until April 16, at which point a new statewide public health order would be issued to continue limits on indoor, unseated gatherings. Beyond that, the dial and previous state public health orders would become guidance that local governments could choose to follow or not.

The announcement of further changes to the state’s COVID-19 dial came on the same day the state opened up vaccination eligibility to 2.5 million more people, and as public health officials acknowledge rising numbers of infections by more-contagious coronavirus variants in the state and a plateauing of overall cases and hospitalizations.

“Because of the commitment of all Coloradans, we are where we are now, able to be less restrictive and provide local communities and their public health agencies more control while still protecting the public’s health,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the state health department, in a statement. “It’s all about a balance. We’ve enacted the restrictions we need to slow the disease while attempting to limit the ramifications of closing down parts of the state and the impacts that come with that.”

Colorado implemented the color-coded dial in September as a way to move the state’s 64 counties to different levels of public health restrictions based on local transmission of the virus and hospitalizations for COVID-19.

The state, however, has changed the metrics on the dial multiple times since then, including adding a new top end — Level Purple — when it appeared that many counties were headed toward another lockdown, and a relaxation of restrictions with the rollout of “Dial 2.0” last month.

Currently, only two counties are at Level Green — Crowley and Otero — and 45 are at Level Blue, the second-lowest level of restrictions. Counties at Level Blue in the metro area include Arapahoe and Jefferson.

The remaining 17 counties are at Level Yellow, the next stage up the dial, and that includes Denver, Adams, Douglas and Boulder counties. Broomfield had moved to Level Blue but earlier this month was bumped back to Level Yellow.

Denver recently approached qualifying for Level Blue before a small uptick in cases set the city back; numbers are trending in that direction again, and it’s possible the city could qualify sometime next week.

Changes under the Dial 3.0 plan include:

— Metrics for Level Green change to make it easier for counties to reach that stage, moving to 35 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people from 15 cases per 100,000

— Most restrictions in Level Green are removed entirely, including dining caps for restaurants. Bars, gyms and indoor events would still be held to a 50% capacity limit or a 500-person cap, whichever is smaller

— Metrics for Level Blue also would change, to 36 to 100 cases per 100,000 people, from 15 to 100 cases per 100,000

— Bars would be able to reopen in Level Blue, with a 25% capacity limit or 75 people, whichever is fewer

— Outdoor events in Levels Green and Blue would have no capacity restrictions, unless counties chose to implement them on a local level

— Retail, offices and non-critical manufacturing in Level Blue counties could operate at 75% capacity, up from 50%

— No state limit on personal gathering sizes, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends avoiding large gatherings

— Businesses with 5 Star state certification in Level Blue counties could operate at 60% capacity, not to exceed 50 people above caps for restaurants and indoor events, and 25 people above the caps for gyms

State health officials say they’re moving forward with the changes because of the increasing number of Coloradans who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

By the middle of next month, the state health agency plans to move to “a more local model,” which would allow county health departments to take greater control over the types of capacity restrictions that currently are dictated by the dial.

The state health department invites Coloradans to review the Dial 3.0 proposal and submit feedback through an online form. The deadline for feedback is noon Monday. The state will release an updated draft on Tuesday with the changes going into effect Wednesday.

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