Denver and other Colorado counties acknowledged a loosening of COVID-19 public health restrictions Monday, following Gov. Jared Polis’s order last week for the state health department to move communities at Level Red down a notch on the state’s dial framework.
The counties will move to Level Orange, which will allow restaurants to reopen indoor dinning at 25% capacity. Gyms and fitness centers also can operate at 25% capacity, while last call for alcohol is at 10 p.m. And personal gatherings once again are allowed, with up to 10 people from no more than two different households.
As of Monday morning, the state health department had not updated its COVID-19 dashboard to reveal the changes, and still showed Front Range counites and others across the state at Level Red. But Denver and Broomfield announced Monday they were moving down to Level Orange, and others, including Arapahoe and Boulder counties, acknowledged last week they would do so.
“We have some concerns about this move because we don’t yet know what the outcome of the holidays will be in terms of spread and new cases,” said Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health executive director, in a statement.
“But we will follow the state’s move and will not put a local public health order in place,” he said, referring to counties’ ability to keep Level Red restrictions through their own orders. “Hopefully, we’ve all only been spending time with our own household and we won’t experience another surge in a week or two.”
The loosening of restrictions comes after Polis sent an after-hours tweet last week asking the state Department of Public Health and Environment to move down all counties at Level Red, which is the second-highest level of restrictions on the dial framework.
The decision and its announcement over social media caught many local public health authorities by surprise. When the governor announced the change Wednesday night, only five of the 33 counties at Level Red had case counts low enough to move to the less restrictive level.
The dial system assigns counties a level based on new cases, the percentage of tests that return positive and how hospitalizations are trending.
Local public health officials are concerned because while hospitalizations from COVID-19 have declined, the state does not yet know how the Christmas and New Year’s holidays will affect infections or hospitalizations. The state also confirmed the presence of a new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus last week and it’s unclear how prevalent it is in the state.
In the counties that are moving to Level Orange, restaurants that have received 5 Star State Certification will not be able to operate under the next less restrictive stage on the dial, Level Yellow, until those counties meet the metrics for their new stage and sustain them for at least 14 days, according to local public health agencies.
The 5 Star State Certification Program launched just a few weeks ago and allows restaurants to see restrictions eased if they meet certain advanced safety guidelines.
However, two members of the governor’s virus modeling team wrote an op-ed published by The Denver Post that urges the closure of indoor dinning as it is riskier than outdoor dining when it comes to spreading COVID-19.
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