Denver metro counties move to looser rules in level yellow

Colorado finalizes color-coded 'dial 2.0' of COVID-19 restrictions


For a more in-depth look at how Colorado's COVID-19 restrictions have changed in the past few months and what factors determine each county's dial level, see our previous story.

In the latest ratcheting down of Colorado's COVID-19 restrictions, the state public-health department confirmed it would drastically ease the limits that allow counties to remain in certain color-coded levels of coronavirus restrictions.

The “dial 2.0” changes will put Denver metro counties in level yellow, promising loosened business-capacity restrictions, according to information from the state public-health department as of Feb. 5. Some would even sit close to entering the notably low blue level.

The changes take effect 9 a.m. Feb. 6, according to a Feb. 5 news release from the department.

In the Denver metro area, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Denver, Jefferson, Elbert and Broomfield counties — all in level orange under the previous rules — will move to yellow on Feb. 6 under the new framework, the department confirmed.

Nearby, Park County is also in level yellow, and Clear Creek County is in orange, according to the state's COVID-19 website as of Feb. 9. Weld County is also in yellow.

Counties now enter level yellow starting at about 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people within one week, a measure known as a county's incidence rate.

The state's new framework starts measuring the rate in one-week periods rather than 14-day chunks.

The line a county needs to cross to enter level red was set to change drastically in the new rules. Rather than 350 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, the threshold essentially changes to 1,000. The line for level orange, the level nearly all counties were operating in as of early February, was 175. Now, it's 600. Level yellow's threshold changes from 75 to 200.

Technically, the new thresholds are about 500 for red, 300 for orange and 100 for yellow over one-week windows.

Elbert County's two-week rate sat at 236 — or, roughly, just over 100 for a one-week rate — as of Feb. 5, placing it close to entering level blue, one level below yellow, if the virus's spread drops. Jefferson County sat close behind at 256.

"While the two-week incidence rate is not necessarily a direct calculation of two times a one-week incidence rate," officials expect that the rates will decrease in a proportionally similar way, said a statement from the State Joint Information Center, which takes questions for the state public-health department.

Another pause for some 5-Star businesses

The move to change the dial system comes as the number of vaccinated Coloradans continues to grow, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the department's executive director, said in an earlier news release.

"Since the dial’s last major change in November, Colorado has begun distributing COVID-19 vaccines throughout the state," Hunsaker Ryan said in the Feb. 5 announcement. "More people now have immunity to COVID-19, including people over 70 and frontline health care workers. This relieves the strain on our hospital system.” 

Compared to the draft of the new rules announced on Jan. 30, the final version of the update changes capacity limits for restaurants in level yellow. Other than that, capacity limits remain the same for all other businesses and other settings across the dial's levels.

Businesses certified as part of the state's 5-Star program are still allowed to operate one level lower on the dial than they otherwise would be able to without certification, except they may not operate in level green, or "Protect Our Neighbors," unless the county is formally in that level.

"Because caution is still a priority, (businesses in) counties in yellow with a 5-Star Business Program may only operate in blue once 70% of 70-year-olds in the state are vaccinated with at least one dose, expected to happen by the end of the month," the Feb. 5 news release said.

Differences between orange and yellow

The following are some of the capacity changes that businesses and other settings in level orange could see with a move to the less-restrictive level yellow, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  

For a complete list of differences between all the levels, go to the state’s COVID-19 website and click “level restrictions” below the map.  

When capacity limits are expressed as both a percentage and a total number of people, business owners and other organizers must use whichever number is fewer, according to the state’s website. 

• Restaurants: Changes from 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is less, to 50% or 50 people (or up to 150 using Colorado's social distancing space calculator) — whichever is less. View the calculator here.

• Offices: Changes from a 25% limit to a 50% limit. Remote work is “strongly encouraged” under both the orange and yellow levels.

• Gyms/fitness centers: Changes from 25% or 50 people indoors, whichever is less, to 50% or 50 people, whichever is less. 

• Indoor unseated events and entertainment: Under level orange, limits are 25% or 50 people (with the calculator), whichever is less. Under level yellow, limits are 50% capacity or 50 people while not using the calculator (or up to 100 with the calculator), whichever is less.

The new change for restaurants in level yellow — that they may now operate at 50% or up to 50 people (or up to 150 with the calculator). — is up from the previous level yellow limit of 100 people with the calculator, according to the Feb. 5 news release.

For a breakdown of what new-case rates and rates of positive COVID-19 tests qualify counties for each dial level, see page 2 here.

Colorado, COVID-19, dial 2.0, final, level yellow, 5 star, Ellis Arnold


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