Colorado moves toward local control over COVID-19 restrictions as Garfield, other counties seek to reopen sooner
Colorado and Garfield County businesses are as “open” as they can safely be, and have been since early on in the pandemic, the governor’s office says.
“Colorado is open and (Gov. Jared Polis) is proud that Colorado was one of the first states to reopen last April and has stayed open ever since, while also being one of the most successful states in suppressing the virus and minimizing loss of life to COVID 19,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Victoria Graham said Thursday.
At the same time, Polis has announced that the state will be updating its COVID-19 dial soon to reflect that Colorado has successfully immunized a large percentage of the most vulnerable populations, she said.
“We expect to devolve the dial to local control, while opening up the vaccine to the general public as soon as mid-April,” Graham said.
Her comments came in direct response to a letter sent this week to Polis by the Garfield County commissioners asking for an immediate plan by the state to fully reopen businesses and drop some of the restrictions that remain in place.
Other counties, including neighboring Rio Blanco County, have sent similar letters pressing for a reopening plan.
“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s no doubt about that,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday during the regular commissioners meeting when the letter was approved unanimously by he and Commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson.
“Nineteen states have already reopened or have plans in place to reopen,” Jankovsky said. “It’s time for a plan that allows Colorado and Garfield County to reopen.”
Currently, Garfield County is operating under Level Blue on the state’s dial, which is the second-least-restrictive level based on a county’s case incidence rate, test positivity rate and hospitalizations.
It still restricts personal gatherings to no more than 10 people from two households, requires restaurants and business offices to operate at no more than 50% capacity and gyms at 25%, and keeps bars that don’t serve a regular menu of food closed.
Locally, COVID-19 numbers have remained fairly stable for the past month or so, with a current average of about eight new cases per day.
Hospitalizations in Garfield County and the test positivity rate of 3.9%, as of Thursday, remain in the Level Blue range, but the one-week incidence rate of 116.3 per 100,000 people has been creeping back up in recent days, and is now in Level Yellow.
“We have been hovering on that Blue-Yellow borderline,” Garfield Public Health Director Yvonne Long said during a March 15 update to the county commissioners. “We saw a dramatic decrease in cases after the first of the year, then a slight uptick again and now we’re seeing a blip again here in March.”
Still, it’s a far cry from mid-December when the county for several weeks over the holidays was at Level Red, which meant restaurants could not have dine-in service and public gatherings were severely limited.
In their letter to Polis, the commissioners said they were hoping for some guidance or criteria from the state to develop a local reopening plan.
Now that more than 40% of the county’s population has been vaccinated for COVID-19, it’s time, the commissioners said.
“The board is concerned about ongoing business restrictions and closures, personal restrictions and harm to the county and public welfare due to overly broad state government action,” their letter states. “What started as a need to severely restrict businesses and personal liberties for a short period of time to ‘flatten the curve’ and protect the hospital and health care system turned into more than 350 executive orders.”
Meanwhile, Garfield County Public Health continues to issue guidance based on the state restrictions, including for upcoming summer events and festivals.
“Event organizers must complete the appropriate forms 30 days prior to hosting an event,” public health advised in a Thursday press release. “An event is defined as an activity that is open to the public, for approximately 40 people or more.”
Public Health has updated its event coordinator guidance with the latest COVID-19 measures and restrictions.
The guidance applies to both indoor and outdoor gatherings such as receptions, events, fairs, rodeos, auctions, concerts, markets, theaters and trade shows.
— Face coverings are required in all settings, indoor or outdoor
— Organizers are responsible for ensuring that social distancing and mask wearing occur
— Size limits depend on the current COVID Dial Level and are subject to change
Event coordinator required forms
— Fill out a Garfield County Social Distancing Plan. This form can help you think through the steps of planning a great event.
— Complete the Garfield County Event Coordinator Plan at least 30 days prior to the event.
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