In mid-July, 15 counties were notified that the coronavirus trend has become intense enough that their “variances” — exceptions Colorado granted them from the state’s restrictions on activities and businesses — must be reconsidered, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Arapahoe County is among them, and officials in that county have encouraged businesses to take greater precautions to reverse the trend before the state was to decide to alter or remove the variance in the first week of August.
Arapahoe saw reassuring news in its COVID-19 case data in early August, but the county formally requested a two-week extension on the deadline, according to Luc Hatlestad, a county spokesman. The state responded by granting a one-week extension, Hatlestad said.
At press time, it was unclear if the state had yet made a ruling.
Starting July 16, the state began a two-week pause on accepting new variance applications. It was unclear from the department’s website on Aug. 6 whether that pause has extended beyond two weeks. The department could not immediately be reached for comment.
Roughly 50 Colorado counties had been granted variances as of July 21, according to the state’s COVID-19 information website.
Just over half a month since Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide mask-wearing order — and two weeks since he cut down Colorado's last call for alcohol to 10 p.m. to discourage unruly socializing — the governor credited those actions when he noted what appears to be a plateau in new coronavirus cases.
But now isn't the time for Coloradans to let their guard down, he warned.
“Just because we are plateauing doesn't mean we're still not in a very precarious position,” Polis said at an Aug. 4 news conference. “It's like a boulder sitting on top of a hill, you know: One wrong move, and it could go into a rockslide off the end.”
After the severity of COVID-19's spread reached its highest estimated rate since late March, Coloradans appear to have turned the tide. Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health say the state's reproductive number reached as high as 1.78 in early July, meaning each infected person likely spread the virus to nearly two people at the time, on average. That number is referred to as Colorado's R0, pronounced “R naught.” If the number sits below one, the number of new cases per day is declining.
Now, the virus has a reproductive value of around 1 — possibly a little below or above, Polis said. If Colorado stays on that track, it can stay within the bounds of the state's hospital capacity, a crucial benchmark for preventing more widespread death and dodging the need for more restrictive state limits on people's activity.
The dip in Colorado's rate of spread is likely due to less gathering of people in large groups and more mask-wearing, Polis said.
The shift includes a decrease in coronavirus numbers among people in their 20s and 30s, a change officials think is partially attributable to moving the cutoff time for selling alcohol in restaurants and bars to 10 p.m., Polis said.
“If your thing is nightclubs and parties, you might have to have three friends over and turn on that disco at home and dance the night away. And I'm not saying that in a frivolous way — I get that that's a sacrifice for you,” said Polis, a baseball fan who lamented that he can't go out to Coors Field to watch the Colorado Rockies.
The governor put the spotlight particularly on young Coloradans in his address, drawing a comparison — as he has before — between Americans making sacrifices during this pandemic and during World War II.
“I know that what we're asking of you isn't easy, but it's important to put it in perspective that it's easier than what has been asked of Americans in their 20s and 30s at different times in our history,” said Polis, noting that when his parents were young, many Americans served in the Vietnam War and lost their lives.
“In World War II, our nation mobilized, and 20-somethings across our entire country put on our nation's uniform and went off to war, and too many didn't come back. What we need to achieve here to defeat this enemy — to defeat this virus and not let it destroy our health or our spirit — is to be smart, avoid large groups and wear a mask where we can,” Polis said.
He added: “It's absolutely critical for the success of Colorado and for the success of America, and I know that we are all on the side of America against this virus.”
Adhering to social distancing guidelines will allow Coloradans to live with some normalcy — attending school, jobs and events such as high-school sports — and is key to living a fulfilling life and not letting the virus “destroy our spirit,” Polis said.
The Colorado Attorney General's Office issued a cease-and-desist letter in late July to Live Entertainment, the company behind a planned July 26 rodeo in Weld County and other events that have drawn as many as thousands. The office proactively sent cease-and-desist orders to an organizer, Adixion Music, as well as a venue, Imperial Horse Racing Facility, to stop such events, according to a governor's office news release.
Polis called such gatherings “dangerous superspreader events” and discouraged the public from buying access to gatherings that may be canceled due to public officials taking enforcement action.
“People who put themselves at risk aren't just putting themselves at risk — they're putting their family, their neighborhood and community at risk, and we cannot stand for that,” Polis said.
Under Colorado's updated safer-at-home order, outdoor events such as receptions, fairs, rodeos and concerts can allow up to 175 people based on the state's Social Distancing Space Calculator — excluding staff — per designated activity with a minimum of 6 feet between individuals or non-household contacts.
Coloradans need to be prepared to live the way they have in late July and early August for several months, Polis said.
The governor acknowledged in an April press conference that social distancing restrictions will be lifted gradually in a process that could last for “two months, three months, 10 months — however long it is before there's a cure or vaccine.”
The state was recently moving forward with its third phase of social distancing policy, the “protect our neighbors” phase, Polis has said. The first two phases were the stay-at-home and current safer-at-home orders.
Once counties meet certain criteria, submit a plan to mitigate surges and are approved by the state, they can permit activities at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity “across all sectors,” with at least 6 feet between non-household members and no more than 500 people in one setting, according to the state's framework.
The state on July 7 released a form to allow counties to apply to qualify for that new phase of social distancing.
Counties that qualify for the “protect our neighbors” phase may choose to become exempt from the state's mask-wearing order.
While less-metropolitan areas may be able to qualify, "that is very unlikely to be the case for the Denver metro area in the near future," Polis said at a July 16 news conference.
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