Colorado communities can apply for next phase of COVID-19 reopening

By: - July 8, 2020 5:38 pm

Gov. Jared Polis signed a series of bills during a July 8, 2020, ceremony at Red Rocks Community College in Arvada. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

At a time when COVID-19 cases are increasing in many areas of Colorado, the state opened an application process for local communities that wish to enter the next phase of reopening.

As of July 8, counties and regions can apply for “Protect Our Neighbors” status if they show that COVID-19 cases are declining and submit a plan for safe reopening that’s approved by local hospitals and public health agencies. Even in this new phase — the next step toward reopening after “Safer at Home” — some restrictions must remain in place. For example, activities can take place at no more than 50% of normal capacity, and events can’t accommodate more than 500 people in one location.

Communities must also show capacity for contact tracing, the process for notifying people who may have come into contact with an infected person so they can isolate themselves from others.

Once it’s granted Protect Our Neighbors status, a county or region doesn’t need to ask the state for a variance to lift specific statewide regulations.

Instead, “the community itself can move forward with relaxing their guidelines when they demonstrate the ability to suppress and contain COVID-19 cases,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, explained at a June 30 news conference where he laid out the framework.

At the time, Polis said some communities would be ready to move into the next phase in early July, and others not until August — though climbing case numbers could potentially jeopardize that possibility.

Denver and Adams counties, northwest Colorado and the San Luis Valley were all experiencing a high COVID-19 incidence rate (more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people reported in the last two weeks) as of July 7, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

To qualify for Protect Our Neighbors, communities must meet the following metrics from CDPHE:

  • “Low disease transmission levels (including stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations or fewer new cases in the past two weeks)”;
  • “Local public health agency capacity for testing, case investigation, contact tracing, and outbreak response (including the ability to test 15 people per 10,000 residents per day; the ability to conduct case investigation and contact tracing for at least 85% of assigned cases within 24 hours; a plan that documents the ability to investigate and contact trace their share, based on population, of our state’s overall 500 cases per day goal; and strategies to offer testing to close contacts of outbreak-associated cases)”; and
  • “Hospital ability to meet the needs of all patients and handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care.”

“We know that most Colorado communities are not ready to move into Protect Our Neighbors yet,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, CDPHE’s executive director, said in a statement. “But we wanted to make sure we shared these guidelines so communities could start planning. Preparing for this thoughtfully will help keep Colorado safe.”

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.