Professional sports are moving closer to returning to fans in Colorado, but the rules surrounding spectators were still unclear as of July 9.
Under the latest update to the state’s safer-at-home order, effective June 30, professional sports can resume pre-season practices, training and league play after they submit a re-opening plan that details their disease prevention strategies to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and receive approval.
The department has received plans from baseball’s Colorado Rockies and football’s Denver Broncos and is reviewing both, according to a spokesperson.
The department didn’t say what crowd capacity level the Rockies or Broncos proposed, saying it is not sharing plans while they are under review. There isn’t a defined timeline for when the reviews will be complete, according to the department.
Gov. Jared Polis suggested thousands of fans at games wouldn’t be a problem for seating but would pose complications for maneuvering through stadiums safely.
“As a baseball fan, we just want to get the teams playing and see if they can pull that off first,” Polis said at a July 9 news conference. He added: “It’s quite simple (that) with a few thousand people in a (50,000)-person venue, it’s easy to have distancing. It’s more about how you get in and out (with) concessions and bathrooms, and it’s not impossible to envision how that could work.”
Thousands of fans at a stadium would far outpace the current safer-at-home event limits, under which indoor venues can allow up to 100 people, excluding staff, per room and outdoor venues may allow up to 175 people excluding staff.
The department did not say if other events such as concerts would be allowed to expand capacity into the thousands if professional sports are allowed such capacity.
On the heels of more data showing COVID-19 on the rise in his state, Gov. Jared Polis still scraped up a hopeful if worried tone in pushing Coloradans to turn the trajectory around.
And he kept up the baseball metaphor he has used to convey where Coloradans stand — but this time he cast them as losing their grip on the game.
“We're in the sixth inning, and we're actually down by a run here to the virus,” Polis said at a July 9 news conference. “It's 6-5, the virus is beating us, but we've got runners on the corners and no outs. So, you know, we're not down 10-to-zero like they are in Texas or Arizona. We're down, and we just need to play ball here.”
Clinging to the hope that Colorado won't end up with a dire spike of COVID-19 like those two states — which have pointed to socializing at bars and nightclubs as a major source of their recent outbreaks — Polis pushed for more mask-wearing but stopped short of saying he'd favor a mandate, again banking on public buy-in rather than leaning on tighter restrictions.
“If you're somehow waiting to wear a mask until the governor tells you to, I hope you've heard that I'm telling you to. And if I haven't been clear, I'm telling you to wear a mask: Wear a damn mask,” Polis said.
“If you're somebody who wants to do the opposite of what the governor says, you should wear a mask because the data shows that that's the best way to save a trillion dollars for our (country's) economy, reduce unemployment, and protect your own life and the life of your loved ones.”
Such was the amped-up and sometimes biting tone that colored Polis' latest ask of Coloradans to turn the ship around on the pandemic.
Following an uptick in the state's coronavirus' spread since mid-June, Colorado's “R naught” — the average number of infections generated by each COVID-19 case — is now above one, Polis said, meaning Colorado's progress is reversing. If the number sits below one, the number of new cases per day is declining.
The governor directly addressed Coloradans who are in their teens, 20s and 30s, remarking that “this is the summer of no parties” and suggesting they socialize by having a few friends over or going outdoors in a group.
To avoid more restrictions on people's freedoms, young Coloradans may need to go without parties into the fall, too, he added.
“Don't put your own life and the lives of your friends in jeopardy,” Polis said. “And if you don't care about the lives of yourself and friends, please don't cost the economy (a cut in activity) and jobs, even your own job.”
Under Colorado's safer-at-home phase of social distancing, gatherings of more than 10 people in public and private are prohibited, except in certain settings such as day camps and recreational sports teams. Houses of worship also may hold larger numbers of people with at least 6 feet between individuals or household groups.
Colorado's uptick, like major spikes in other states, is largely among the younger demographic and may be attributable to bars and nightclubs and potentially to public protests, Polis has said.
Polis announced June 30 that Colorado was closing its bars and nightclubs, and the governor estimated bars are likely closed in 70% of the state. Due to local variations in social distancing rules that the state has granted, bars could remain open in some counties, and bars with full-service kitchens or those that provide food from a neighboring restaurant or food truck were able to keep operating in general.
The governor still urged people over 65 to “take extraordinary measures” to protect themselves, citing his parents, who are in their 70s, continuing to stay home as an example.
Asked why he's leaving mask-wearing mandates to local leaders, Polis argued the state has “minimal ability” to enforce a mask order but said he hasn't ruled it out as an option.
Coloradans shouldn't just wear a mask for fear of a fine but should “wear one because you might save your life. You also might save your job. You might save your stock portfolio. You might keep your local businesses open,” Polis added.
Polis praised that more than half the state's population, upwards of 60%, has a mask-wearing requirement in their local jurisdiction.
That figure was to change after Douglas County announced July 9 that it would move to opt out of its local health department's mask mandate.
Despite the about-face in the pandemic's trajectory in Colorado, the state moved ahead with allowing counties to move to its third phase of social distancing, the “protect our neighbors” framework.
The state on July 7 released a form to allow counties to apply to qualify for the new framework of social distancing, according to a news release by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 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 COVID-19 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.
Because cases are increasing in many counties throughout the state, most will not yet be eligible to apply, according to the release.
Counties must submit letters of support from hospitals, local public health agency directors, county commissioners, sheriffs, police departments, mayors, emergency managers and, if applicable, local tribes.
They also must meet the following standards:
• Stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations or fewer new cases in the past two weeks.
• The local public health agency's ability to test 15 people per 10,000 residents per day and to conduct contact tracing for at least 85% of assigned cases within 24 hours, and strategies to offer testing to close contacts of outbreak-associated cases, among other planning.
• Hospital ability to meet needs of all patients and handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care, including the capacity to manage a 20% surge in hospital admissions and patient transfers and having two weeks of personal protective equipment available).
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