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Pitkin County’s restrictions to increase but what color level remains elusive

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
A new coronavirus dial was released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and it adjusts the levels and adds a new 'purple' Extreme Risk status. The new level goes into effect Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.
Courtesy CDPHE

dialing in

Colorado health officials on Tuesday announced a change and addition to the COVID-19 Status Dial. The new dial levels, which go into effect Friday, include:

Level Green — Protect Our Neighbors: For counties that are able to locally contain surges. Most businesses are open with generous capacity limits.

Level Blue — Caution: For counties with low transmission levels that aren’t quite ready for Protect Our Neighbors. Capacity limits are more permissive than yellow.

Level Yellow — Concern: The baseline level for counties with elevated transmission levels but stable hospitalizations.

Level Orange — High Risk: For counties where numbers are going up but not to the point where everything needs to be shut down. The capacity limits are moderate.

Level Red — Severe Risk: For counties with high levels of transmission, hospitalizations, and positivity rates. Most indoor activities are prohibited or strictly limited, and outdoor activities are encouraged as an alternative. The capacity limits are significant.

Level Purple — Extreme Risk: For counties where hospital capacity is at extreme risk of being overrun. At this level, all businesses must significantly curtail in person functions and people must stay at home except for necessary activities.

Source: CDPHE; covid19.colorado.gov

While more stringent COVID-19-related restrictions in Pitkin County will go into effect probably by the end of the day Thursday, it was not clear Tuesday exactly what form those new rules might take.

As expected, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday announced a new level of restrictions in the state that includes shutting down indoor restaurant dining but stops short of a lockdown. He said 10 to 15 counties would be moving to that “severe risk Red level.” Lockdown level is now classified as “Purple.”

However, Pitkin County’s manager said state officials have told him that moving to the Red level is voluntary at this time and that while the county was initially on the state’s list to move to that level, the final decision will rest with the Board of Health, which meets Thursday afternoon. If board members decide against the newly created Red level of restrictions, the county would move to the state’s “Orange” level of restrictions, said Jon Peacock.

“We’re certainly not being directed to go into Red,” he said. “The state is not requiring counties to go to that level.”

During a news conference Tuesday, Polis did not go into detail about the Red level but said it would provide a path for counties to avoid an economically costly shutdown or lockdown. He said restrictions will include no indoor dining for restaurants though takeout and outdoor dining will be allowed, 10% capacity for gyms, and child care facilities would remain open. Last call will be at 8 p.m., while retail will remain at 50% capacity, places of worship would be capped at 25% and there would be no limits on lodging, according to guidelines later posted online.

Polis strongly encouraged school districts to send children in kindergarten through fifth-grade back to school, while middle and high schools can be hybrid or remote. He also announced he would call a special session of the Legislature to try to provide financial aid for small businesses in the state, especially bars and restaurants, renters, child care providers and money for expanded broadband access.

“This will help Colorado families and small businesses survive the challenging winter months to bridge us to a vaccine,” Polis said.

After talking to state public health officials Monday, Pitkin County officials were under the impression that the county would be moving to the Red level of restrictions, Peacock said. On Tuesday, they learned from the state that they — as well as their counterparts in Garfield and Eagle counties — do not have to adopt the new restrictions.

“The language (with the state) is all about partnerships,” Peacock said. “We know we’re not being required to (adopt the new level), and Garfield and Eagle won’t be either.”

Eagle County has indicated they will move in Orange restrictions, he said later Tuesday. At a special meeting Tuesday evening with state health officials, Garfield County commissioners pushed back on having tighter restrictions, saying the negative impacts on businesses could be devastating.

In Pitkin County, members of the Board of Health will meet at 2:30 p.m. Thursday and, in conjunction with Public Health Director Karen Koenemann, will decide which level to adopt, Peacock said. The Red level would last for at least 30 days, while Orange will last until the county meets the metrics associated with the less restrictive Yellow level for 14 consecutive days, he said.

The health board could also enact a unique health order that would have to be at least as restrictive as Orange, Peacock said.

Regardless, however, the Yellow level restrictions that generally limit restaurant, businesses and offices to 50% capacity are a thing of the past. The Orange restrictions are the best the county can hope for, Peacock said.

“We know that’s going to happen,” he said.

In fact, the state later notified the county Tuesday afternoon that it must move to Orange level restrictions by 5 p.m. Thursday, Peacock said.

Gabi Johnston, a CDPHE spokeswoman, said the agency collaborates with counties about the need to move along the COVID-19 Dial, “once that movement occurs, they are expected to enact and enforce those restrictions.”

“A county’s move on the dial depends on two-week cumulative incidence rate, positivity rate and hospitalization rates,” Johnston said in an email. “To move to the Purple level, the metric is primarily based on increasing hospitalization rates.”

Between 10 and 15 counties “could potentially move into Red level restrictions,” which will go into effect Friday, Johnston said.

“We are working closely with our local partners to evaluate disease transmission in their communities and to determine if a move to the Red level is necessary,” she said.

Polis did not name the counties that would be moving to the Red level, except to say that some would be moving “together as a region.” The list of 15 counties was released Tuesday night by the CDPHE.

Denver will be one of the areas to make the move, said Mayor Michael Hancock, who also attended the news conference.

The other counties that will move to Red level restrictions starting Friday are: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas and Jefferson in the Denver metro area; Clear Creek and Summit, which are neighboring counties along Interstate 70; Logan, Morgan and Washington in northeast Colorado; and La Plata, Mesa and Routt in the west.

Peacock said Polis “has always been a local control guy” and that the state wants to avoid lockdowns as much as possible.

“Beyond the Orange level, there’s been some reticence to go to a stay at home order or this new level,” he said. “They want to let locals make that decision.”

Polis said that with more people in Colorado hospitalized than in March and April, and with “growth that keeps skyrocketing,” something had to be done. Approximately 1,300 Colorado residents were currently hospitalized with COVID, while one in 110 residents was contagious with the virus, he said.

He said residents should not be around anyone outside their immediate household.

“Avoid socializing with others,” Polis said. “It’s clear from the data that what we’ve been doing is not enough. This is the time to take additional measures … that data shows will have an impact and avoid more devastating measures.”

In other news, the state approved Aspen Skiing Company’s winter operations plan for this season Tuesday, said Jeff Hanle, Skico spokesman.

jauslander@aspentimes.com


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