State moves Garfield County to Level Red COVID-19 restrictions

County commissioners slate Thursday meeting ahead of state’s enforcement directive deadline

Garfield County will move to Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial, effective 5 p.m. Thursday, due to the county’s rising case numbers, bringing with it new restrictions on business operations, events and social gatherings.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan notified the county commissioners of the dial change in a letter Wednesday, along with County Manager Kevin Batchelder and County Public Health Director Yvonne Long.

Per the letter, the county is directed to “work to inform residents, businesses and other stakeholders to ensure the transition is completed by then.

“This process will require the county to implement restrictions across all sectors as described in Section II.F of Public Health Order 20-36, as amended,” the letter states.

County commissioners are slated to meet in a special session at 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss the change and what it will mean locally. Commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, maintained that they have the discretion to determine how to apply the restrictions locally.

State officials, however, have repeatedly said that’s not the case, and that the county must operate under restrictions as determined under the state’s metrics-based dial system.

Technically, under Level Red, or “Severe Risk,” restaurants would not be allowed to have indoor dining and be limited to takeout and open-air dining options with group-size limits.

Last call for restaurant alcohol sales also moves from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. under the tighter restrictions.

Personal gatherings would also be impacted, just as the holidays approach. Instead of up to 10 people from no more than two families, no personal gatherings outside of households are supposed to take place under the state’s Level Red restrictions.

Other changes include:

  • Offices must reduce their on-site workforce to 10%, with remote working strongly encouraged.
  • Gyms and fitness centers must revert from 25% capacity to 10%, or 10 people per room indoors.

The status of Garfield County’s site-specific variances for Glenwood’s two hot springs operations and the Caverns Adventure Park could also be reevaluated under Level Red.

It was unclear Wednesday how Sunlight Mountain Resort’s planned season opening later this week might be impacted. CDPHE staff did not immediately respond to requests for information on variances and Sunlight’s plans.

The state on Nov. 19 moved the county from Level Yellow (Concern) to Level Orange (High Risk), based on the increasing trends in new COVID-19 cases and the test positivity rate locally.

The upward trend in cases, hospitalizations and deaths has only continued to go up since then, as it has in many parts of Colorado.

As of Wednesday, Garfield County had a two-week cumulative incidence rate of 1,037 per 100,000 people, up from 664.8 on Nov. 18.

The two-week case count also grew from 400 as of Nov. 18 to 624 as of the two weeks ending Tuesday, and the test positivity rate in the county has gone up from 12.5% to 13.37%.

“Given the increase in incidence rate, case count and percent testing positivity, an implementation of additional restrictions is warranted at this time,” Hunsaker wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to the Post Independent.

“As such, CDPHE is moving Garfield County to COVID-19 Dial Level Red,” she wrote. “Should the county restore metrics for a less restrictive level at any time, the county would need to maintain those metrics for two weeks and complete the request process … in order to move to that level.”

At the Monday commissioners meeting, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky maintained that the county does have policy discretion on the matter, and that he doesn’t view the difference of opinion as a “standoff” with the state.

“It’s just a decision we’ve made about what’s best in our community,” Jankovsky said. “To my knowledge, our restaurants have been doing a good job of following the rules we have in place.”

He added, “We do still expect for all the guidelines to be followed.”

Commissioner John Martin said during that meeting that he doesn’t see how the restriction on personal gatherings could be enforced. Regardless, he’s opposed.

“It’s Christmas, and you’re saying you can’t have your family at your house? My answer is, ‘no,'” Martin said.

CDPHE, in a Nov. 17 statement provided to the Post Independent, said counties are expected to abide by the level restrictions when the dial changes.

“While we collaborate with counties about the need to move on the dial, once that movement occurs, they are expected to enact and enforce those restrictions,” the statement read.

Level Red is no longer the strictest level under the revamped COVID-19 dial. The state in November added the “Extreme Risk” Level Purple, which basically enacts a lockdown similar to the March and April restrictions when the pandemic began.

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