DENVER — Colorado's largest county will also move to 100% capacity levels for restaurants on Friday, Denver officials announced on Wednesday, pointing to a lower mortality rate with more residents getting vaccinated.
Denver on Friday will move to "Level Blue," which allows restaurants and gyms to operate at 100% capacity, though six-foot social distancing will still be in place, limiting capacity somewhat.
Denver joins Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson and Boulder counties as major metro areas moving to Level Blue on Friday, when the state hands over COVID-19 authority to local governments. The state has a full list of Level Blue restrictions, though some protocols could vary from county to county.
While case counts in Denver and across Colorado have ticked up in recent weeks, Denver has reported five COVID-19 deaths since March 28. Weekly deaths were as high as 37 in December and peaked at 56 last April, at the onset of the pandemic. Denver's seven-day moving average of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations was 3.29 on Tuesday.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver health department, said Denver's mortality rate "overall is very low at this point in time," but that the city is also "keeping a close eye" on hospitalizations.
McDonald and Mayor Michael Hancock said vaccine distribution has been the main driver in being able to relax restrictions.
"The difference now as opposed to last year is we have the vaccines," Hancock said. "We are making decisions guided by data and the presence of the vaccine in our community."
City officials on Wednesday said 41% of Denver residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 22.8% are fully vaccinated. Statewide, 36.9% of Coloradans have received at least one dose and 22.4% are fully vaccinated.
Denver's changes this week also include a modification of the city's mask mandate. Masks will not be required in outdoor settings but will remain required indoors and on public transportation. The modified mask order will expire in 30 days.
While local control goes into effect this week, the state will still have control over large indoor events of more than 500 people, such as concerts and sporting events.
For outdoor events of under 5,000 people, the event will need to have a mitigation plan for social distancing. Outdoor events over 5,000 people will have to further consult with the city health department.
Jefferson County on Tuesday announced it would enter an "observation period" after May 15 in which no COVID-19 restrictions would be applied. Denver does not plan to have an observation period at this time.
Douglas County opted out of Tri-County’s public health order on Tuesday and will have no restrictions aside from those that stay in place on the state level. McDonald called that decision “a risky move and maybe too soon” on Wednesday.