Colorado will replace its current system of deciding when counties should get exemptions, or variances, from statewide coronavirus restrictions, with a “dial” system that sets universal thresholds for different levels of business closures or capacity limits, Gov. Jared Polis announced at a news briefing Sept. 15.
“Colorado’s not monolithic,” Polis said. “Different counties and communities and even within counties, different cities have different experiences with the virus, and we want to arm those local decision makers with the tools they need in each area.”
The current process through which a county can request a variance from Safer at Home rules requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to review an individual county’s public health framework and coronavirus conditions before approving any changes.
In contrast, the new dial system defines five levels of COVID-19 restrictions, depending on the virus prevalence in a specific county:
• Protect Our Neighbors
• Safer at Home: Level 1
• Safer at Home: Level 2
• Safer at Home: Level 3
• Stay at Home
To qualify for Protect Our Neighbors, the level with the least restrictions, a county must have fewer than 25 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over two weeks. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests must be 5% or lower, with no more than two new hospital admissions per day.
Protect Our Neighbors allows all activities to occur at 50% of normal capacity, with 6-foot social distancing and no more than 500 people in any place at one time. Counties must go through a certification process before being approved for this level.
Six counties — Yuma, Moffat, Gunnison, Gilpin, Mesa and Rio Blanco — had applied for Protect Our Neighbors as of Sept. 14, according to a spokesperson from CDPHE. Polis announced Sept. 8 that Gilpin, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties were the first to be granted the status, and during the Sept. 15 briefing, he said Moffat and Gunnison counties had also been approved.
Safer at Home: Level 2, the midpoint of the dial, represents the baseline Safer at Home guidelines. Counties in this level have between 75 and 175 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people reported over two weeks. They would also need to have a test positivity rate below 10% with no more than two new hospital admissions per day.
Under Safer at Home: Level 2, a maximum of 100 people can attend indoor events. Up to 175 people can attend outdoor events.
This is slightly different from previous Safer at Home guidelines, which weren’t split up into three levels. Previously, as described in a Sept. 15 Newsline article, unless a county had a variance from state guidelines, capacity at outdoor events was supposed to be limited to 125 in all counties with more than 50 cases per 100,000.
Safer at Home: Level 1 includes all counties with fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 that have not been granted Protect Our Neighbors by applying through the state. In this level, counties can host outdoor events with up to 250 people. Counties in Safer at Home: Level 3 have fewer than 350 but more than 175 cases per 100,000, and can have up to 75 people at outdoor events.
At the high end of the dial, counties with more than 350 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over two weeks must return to Stay at Home, when residents were required to remain in their homes except to run essential errands.
Over the past two weeks, Boulder, Adams, Logan, Phillips, Yuma and Mineral counties were the only ones with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people, according to a map updated by CDPHE at 4 p.m. Sept. 15.
Read more about the dial system here.