Restrictions in response to COVID-19 in each county depend on what officials call Colorado's “dial,” the framework that lays out which level of social distancing policy a county must operate under.
The strictest level on that “dial” is a stay-at-home order, the policy Colorado enacted statewide in the spring.
At the other end is the “protect our neighbors” phase of restrictions, which only a handful of Colorado counties have qualified for.
That stage is likely months away for metro Denver counties.
In the middle are three levels of the safer-at-home phase — the policy that came after the statewide stay-at-home order this spring and allowed numerous types of businesses to reopen.
In mid-September, the state broke the safer-at-home policy into three levels that counties are placed under based on local COVID-19 spread.
The state recently switched to color identifiers to avoid confusion: Levels 1, 2 and 3 are now known as blue, yellow and orange. Red is a stay-at-home order.
Which level a county falls under on the dial depends on its rate of new cases, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, and whether hospitalizations are increasing, stable or declining.
As the steep spike in new coronavirus cases in Arapahoe County continues to climb, the state public-health department announced it would again move the county to tighter restrictions, this time to safer-at-home level orange — one step below a stay-at-home order — according to a county news release.
The level Arapahoe will move to was previously known as level 3. The state recently switched to color identifiers — blue, yellow and orange — to avoid confusion.
The new restrictions in Arapahoe further cut capacity levels at restaurants, places of worship, businesses and events. The change was announced in the days after the number of Coloradans hospitalized with COVID-19 began hitting its highest marks ever recorded during the pandemic.
Colorado's safer-at-home policy is the set of rules that came after the statewide stay-at-home order this spring and allowed numerous types of businesses to reopen. In the months since, it's been updated many times.
In mid-September, the state broke the safer-at-home policy into three levels that counties are placed under based on the severity of local COVID-19 spread.
The new level in Arapahoe County was to take effect at 5 p.m. Nov. 11, and the county was to provide a status update to the state public-health department in about two weeks, according to the county news release. If the virus' trend in the county doesn't reverse, Arapahoe could see a stay-at-home order in the coming weeks.
“Unfortunately, our numbers are rising in ways that jeopardize our ability to keep the county open at the current levels,” Nancy Sharpe, chair of Arapahoe County's board of elected leaders, said in the news release. “The data indicate that it is especially crucial for us to take action now to avoid overburdening our hospital system in the county and throughout Colorado. We realize the burden this imposes on our residents, businesses and organizations, and we urge everyone to work together to give us the best chance of reversing these troubling trends.”
Adams County was recently put under a curfew — essentially a nighttime stay-at-home order — to keep people in their homes from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., with an exception for those working “critical” jobs or people with an urgent reason to be out. The public health order for Adams, which took effect Nov. 7, includes language akin to the statewide stay-at-home order Colorado saw this spring. Denver issued a similar nighttime order in recent days.
Arapahoe County's rate of new cases continued to climb even after Tri-County Health Department issued a public health order for Arapahoe County on Oct. 16 that moved up the last call for alcohol and tightened limits on personal gatherings. Tri-County Health is the local health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
The climb in cases also persisted after Arapahoe moved to safer-at-home level 2, now known as level yellow, on Oct. 28.
One of the factors that determines a county's safer-at-home level is its “incidence rate,” or the rate of new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks. Arapahoe County's incidence rate was more than 600 as of Nov. 9, far outpacing 350, the upper limit for remaining in level orange. That likely puts the county on track to enter level red, a stay-at-home order, if the trend doesn't change.
Nearly the entire Denver metro area was also in level orange as of Nov. 9, including Denver, Adams, Jefferson and Broomfield counties. Douglas remained in level yellow.
Colorado recently surpassed its previous record, or “peak,” of 888 COVID-19 patients in April. As of Nov. 9, more than 1,000 people were in the hospital statewide for COVID-19.
The level-orange restrictions now faced by Arapahoe have brought about the following capacity changes:
• Restaurants may operate at 25% capacity indoors or 50 people excluding staff, whichever is less, per room. That's down from 50% indoors or 50 people in level yellow.
• Places of worship may operate at 25% capacity indoors or 50 people excluding staff, whichever is less, per room, with capacity calculated using the state's social distancing space calculator. For seated events, the usable space may be calculated using 6 feet of distance between non-household contacts instead of using the calculator. In level yellow, the limit was 50% capacity indoors or 50 people.
• Gyms, recreation centers and indoor pools may operate at 25% capacity or 25 people, whichever is less, excluding staff, per room indoors or per activity or area outdoors. That's down from 25% capacity or 50 people in level yellow.
• Outdoor recreational activities in groups of 10 people or fewer may occur, maintaining 6 feet between non-household contacts.
• Organized recreational youth or adult league sports are not authorized for indoor settings. Virtual services may be provided, or outdoor recreational sports in groups of 10 people or fewer may occur, maintaining 6 feet between non-household contacts. That's a change from 25 players, excluding coaching staff and referees or umpires, in level yellow.
• Indoor events may operate at 25% capacity or 50 people excluding staff, whichever is less, within their usable space calculated using the calculator per room. For seated events, the usable space may be calculated using 6 feet between non-household contacts instead of the calculator. That's down from 50% or 50 people in level yellow.
• Outdoor events may operate at 25% capacity or 75 people excluding staff, whichever is less, within their usable space calculated using the calculator per designated activity or area. For seated events, the usable space may be calculated using 6 feet between non-household contacts instead of the calculator. That's down from 50% or 175 in level yellow.
Noncritical retail may operate at 25% capacity. Critical retail includes businesses such as grocery stores and gas stations. Noncritical office-based businesses may allow 25% of their employees to conduct in-person work.
See page 33 of the COVID-19 Dial order, which includes the current safer-at-home policy, for a full list of what businesses are considered critical..
For questions on the restrictions, businesses and organizations can contact Tri-County Health at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 720-713-6030.
See what restrictions each level includes here on page 6. See which level each county throughout the state is under on the state's website here.
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