Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Oct. 27 that the city and county would enter a more restrictive level of the state’s COVID-19 dial system following a weeks-long increase in cases and a rising percentage of tests coming back positive.
“We will work to implement this state order in the best way we can to protect our residents and mitigate the impacts on our hard-pressed businesses,” Hancock said during a virtual news conference.
Under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s order, most Denver businesses must begin operating at a quarter of their normal capacity by the afternoon of Oct. 28. None of the restrictions should affect anyone’s ability to vote.
Adams County will also move to the more restrictive level Oct. 28, CDPHE announced.
Over the past two weeks, Denver County has reported more than 384 cases per 100,000 people to the state, meaning that at least one in every 260 people has been contagious with COVID-19 at some point between Oct. 11 and Oct. 25.
Adams County reported more than 547 cases per 100,000 people over the same time period.
Denver and Adams counties have been under Safer at Home: Level 2 since Sept. 15, when all counties were assigned levels under the state’s dial system based on their metrics at that time. However, that level requires counties to have between 75 and 175 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people reported over two weeks. It also requires a test positivity rate between 5% and 10%, and stable or declining hospitalizations.
Under Safer at Home: Level 2, a maximum of 100 people can attend indoor events. Up to 175 people can attend outdoor events. Last call for alcohol can be as late as 11 p.m.
Before moving counties to a new level, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment works with local leaders to implement mitigation measures to try to get back into compliance.
However, Denver hasn’t seen significant improvements since adding mask-wearing requirements and restricting gathering sizes on Oct. 16, and neither has Adams County after adding its own mitigation measures.
The counties will now move to Safer at Home: Level 3, which has more restrictions than Level 2 but is still one step above the most restrictive level, Stay at Home. Under Level 3, indoor events regulated under the state’s Safer at Home order are limited to 25 people and outdoor events to 75 people. (Personal gatherings were already limited to five people in Denver and Adams counties, and a statewide order issued Oct. 23 dictates that those people may be from no more than two separate households.)
Capacity limitations at restaurants will be slashed from up to 100 people and a maximum of 50% normal capacity, to no more than 50 people or 25% capacity. Last call for alcohol must be no later than 10 p.m.
Under Safer at Home: Level 3 of the state’s dial system, gyms are required to close. However, Denver may have some flexibility on that aspect of the restrictions, Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said during the news conference.
“I think at this point, what I can say is more to come on that,” McDonald said. “We’ll see what decision the state makes along those lines.”
Denver and Adams County’s metrics are actually worse than those dictated under Level 3, which corresponds to a case incidence of 175 to 350 cases per 100,000 people.
The two county’s hospitalization rates are in the “green zone,” as they’ve reported nine days out of 14 with stable or declining numbers of people hospitalized for COVID-19.
Denver’s test positivity rate of 7.3% — per CDPHE data — corresponds to the “yellow zone,” Safer at Home: Level 2. Adams County’s positivity rate is even higher at 10.2%, putting it in the Level 3 “orange zone.”
Hancock said the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment would be stepping up enforcement of COVID-19-related orders.
“We want to do everything we can to avoid having to shut down our economy again,” he said. “I believe we’ve already proven that we can take control of the numbers that we are seeing and reverse this, and that’s why we’re doing this.”
Statewide, the situation worsens
On average, 1,377 new COVID-19 cases were reported each day of the week ending Oct. 25 in Colorado, and 513 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 as of Oct. 26 — the most since May 16.
“We all long to get back to normal, but now is not the time to let down our guard,” Gov. Jared Polis said at his own virtual news briefing Oct. 27.
CDPHE announced Arapahoe County will move from Safer at Home: Level 1 to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 28, and that Otero and Crowley counties would move from Level 1 to Level 2 one day later, on Oct. 29.
As of Oct. 26, La Plata County moved from Level 1 to Level 2, and Mesa County moved from Protect Our Neighbors phase, a minimally restricted level reserved for counties with very few cases, to Safer at Home: Level 1.
“As we head into winter and spend more time indoors, the virus is going to be harder to suppress,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, CDPHE’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the cooperation of counties, and the seriousness with which they are taking their response.”
The counties have submitted mitigation plans to CDPHE and are working to reverse the trends, the statement said.
At Polis’ briefing, three people formerly hospitalized with COVID-19 spoke about their own experiences. One woman, Barbara Gould, said she was healthy and active before getting COVID-19 in April.
“My liver sustained some damage,” said Gould, who is still on supplemental oxygen. “Don’t know if that’s going to get better or how long it will take. My endurance is greatly weakened.”
Another woman, Kim Powell, said she lost 20 pounds after getting COVID-19.
“I haven’t been able to do many of the things that used to bring me joy. I can’t run. I can’t go to the mountains,” Powell said.
Clarence Troutman said he cried for 10 minutes after waking up in the hospital with COVID-19. He’d been there for a month, and didn’t know where he was or what was going on.
“At this point, we are seeing a number of our hospitals that are stressed … Nobody is at the point where they’re turning away patients,” Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said during the briefing. But the situation is still concerning, he added.
Statewide, among the hospitals reporting data to CDPHE, 36% of adult critical care ventilators and 77% of intensive care beds are in use.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct Safer at Home level designations for Otero and Crowley counties.