Colorado health officials allow Denver to keep gyms open at 25% capacity

New restrictions should not affect voters’ ability to cast ballots

Chad Pinther, co-owner of Colfax Strong, a Crossfit facility in Denver, describes the facility's social distance arrangements on Oct. 28, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

On Oct. 27, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the state had ordered the city and county of Denver to implement restrictions under Safer at Home: Level 3 of the COVID-19 dial system, following an increase in cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive.

This won’t mean closing gyms, according to an announcement later that day from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, mentioned during the briefing with Hancock that Denver might have some flexibility on the Level 3 requirements for gyms.

Under Safer at Home: Level 2, Denver’s previous designation under the dial system, gyms were allowed to operate at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people. The Safer at Home: Level 3 requirements, which the state ordered Denver to adopt, previously required gyms to shutter.

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CDPHE is now revising that requirement, according to its announcement. Counties under Level 3 can now keep gyms open at 25% capacity with a maximum of 25 people.

Colfax Strong, a Crossfit gym on Emerson Street in downtown Denver, has long operated well below 25% capacity, said Chad Pinther, who with wife Esther owns the facility. Even before the latest restrictions, the 9,000-square-foot gym’s COVID arrangement accommodated only 16 people. The layout is meant to both allow room for members to work out and remain socially distanced, with little need to move around the facility.

“If we went beyond that it wouldn’t be safe,” Pinther said, adding that the gym has been the site of zero COVID infections since the beginning of the pandemic.

Pinther stressed the value of gyms remaining open, even with restrictions. People during the pandemic have come to appreciate the benefits of getting out to move and exercise. The gym lost 50 members after the initial shutdown, he said, but 60 joined after the gym reopened.

“People are suffering,” he said.

10.2% positivity in Adams County

Most other 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.)

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.)

Adams County was also ordered to move from Level 2 to Level 3. When asked whether this would mean closing gyms, a Tri-County Health Department spokesperson pointed to the state’s revision of requirements for Level 3 — suggesting those changes override the department’s earlier Oct. 23 announcement that the new designation would mean shuttering gyms in Adams County.

Over the past two weeks, Denver County has reported 386 new cases per 100,000 people to the state, meaning that at least one in every 259 people has been contagious with COVID-19 at some point between Oct. 12 and Oct. 26. Adams County reported 553 new cases per 100,000 people during the same period.

Denver’s test positivity rate over the past two weeks is 7.4%, and Adams County’s is 10.2%, according to CDPHE data. The World Health Organization recommended in May that communities achieve a test positivity rate below 5% for two weeks before reopening.

The counties’ increasing positivity rates indicate that increasing case totals are not just due to more testing.

For example, between Sept. 20 and Sept. 26, DDPHE data shows 17,083 tests were conducted in Denver. Just 3.7% of the tests came back positive.

A month later, Denver had ratcheted up its testing. DDPHE reported that 21,339 tests were conducted in the city and county between Oct. 18 and Oct. 24. If 3.7% of those tests came back positive, any increase in reported cases could, theoretically, be attributed to the increase in testing and not necessarily more COVID-19. However, for that week, DDPHE reported that 7.6% of tests came back positive.

Other counties that have moved or are moving to more restrictive levels:

• La Plata County moved from Safer at Home: Level 1 to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 26
• Mesa County moved from Protect Our Neighbors to Safer at Home: Level 1 on Oct. 26
• Arapahoe County will move from Safer at Home Level 1: to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 28
• Otero County will move from Safer at Home: Level 1 to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 29
• Crowley County will move from Safer at Home: Level 1 to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 29
• Kit Carson County will move from Safer at Home: Level 1 to Safer at Home: Level 2 on Oct. 29

Quentin Young contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with information from a Tri-County Health Department spokesperson.