DENVER — As Denver prepares to move to Level Red early in the evening Friday, the Department of Public Health & Environment's executive director said the state and country is in for a much better 2021 if people follow public health guidelines and the COVID-19 vaccine continues to show promising results.
“We’re in for a few rough months here, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel," said DDPHE Executive Director Bob McDonald during a press conference Friday morning with Mayor Michael B. Hancock. "We pull together, we wear face coverings, we physically distance, a vaccine starts to get distributed to high-risk individuals, perhaps starting as early as next month. And as that continues to be distributed throughout our communities, I see 2021 looking a lot different than where we are right now.”
Denver is one of 20 counties that will move to Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial at 5 p.m. Friday.
Hancock said due to the lack of a national coordinated response, the states, counties and cities around the United States have been forced to react on their own. He said while lives are at stake, he is “appalled” that some elected officials continue to chase conspiracies about the reality of COVID-19.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are spiking in Colorado, but Denver is continuing to be proactive, Hancock said.
Moving to Level Red was an unwelcome change, but one Hancock said he understands — state officials are trying to curb infections, save lives and protect the stressed healthcare systems. Level Red, as defined by the CDPHE, is "for counties with high levels of transmission, hospitalizations, and positivity rates."
The restrictions include:
• No gatherings of more than two non-household members
• No more than 10% capacity for non-critical office businesses
• No more than 50% capacity for critical and non-critical retail businesses
• No indoor dining at restaurants
• No indoor events
• No more than 10% capacity, or 10 people, for indoor gyms
“I know this is hard. I know you hate this. I hate this,” Hancock said.
But he added that it’s the best route to avoid a complete shutdown of the economy and a “catastrophic impact” on the healthcare system.
McDonald said hospitals are not only struggling with a lack of space and equipment, but also staffing.
He said if Denverites don't gather in groups for 30 days, he believes the data will start to turn in the other direction.
He urged residents to download the Add Your Phone app, which provides free notifications if a user may have been exposed to somebody with COVID-19.
If somebody suspects they may have COVID-19, they can visit several different testing sites to find a location, day and time that works for them. McDonald recommended checking the location’s website to ensure they are open before leaving home.
Regarding small businesses, Denver's Economic Relief and Recovery Council has provided guidance, recommendations and clear pathways to help businesses and nonprofits across the city, Hancock said. As of Friday, $10 million had been provided in COVID-19 relief for small businesses and $2 million for nonprofits. On top of that, $4 million will be dispersed to small businesses and nonprofits by the end of the year.
The city’s finance department and economic development teams are exploring additional ways to provide relief, Hancock said.
Now that two vaccines — one from Pfizer and BioNTech, and one from Moderna — are in their final stages before they're available to the public, McDonald said he’s confident that it will be effective and safe.
“What gets us through the next few rough months is face coverings and physical distancing,” he said. “That’s our ‘vaccine’ now. What gets us out of this pandemic is people getting the vaccine."