DENVER — Starting Monday, counties in Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial can move to Level Orange. Gov. Jared Polis made the request Wednesday following about two weeks of declining numbers and a ICU capacity lowering to 73%.
Following Polis' request, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said the department planned to work with local public health agencies on next steps after data showed counties restricted in Level Red had reduced viral transmission "to a point where we can provide economic relief and move them into Level Orange."
Key requirements under Level Orange include:
• No gatherings of more than 10 people from two households.
• No more than 25% in-person workers for non-critical office businesses.
• No more than 50% capacity for critical and non-critical retail businesses.
• No more than 25% capacity, or 50 people, at restaurants, houses of worship and other indoor locations.
• No more than 25% capacity, or 25 people, for indoor gyms and recreation centers.
In a statement Monday, CDPHE said the state's decision to move counties to Level Orange is to provide greater flexibility for local jurisdictions. Counties can choose to continue to operate with more restrictive guidance.
“Our goal is to empower counties to operate with the least restrictions possible, while at the same time ensuring protection of the public’s health and Colorado’s hospital capacity. We are closely monitoring disease transmission while working to provide much-needed economic relief by allowing businesses to operate with fewer restrictions,” Hunsaker Ryan said.
This comes as several counties have already began implementation of the state's 5 Star Program. Once approved for the program, restaurants in Level Red counties can operate under Level Orange restrictions.
In applying for certification, restaurants have a list of operation requirements, including employee symptom and exposure checks, customer contact tracing information and social distancing protocols that go beyond what's currently required of restaurants.
However, with counties moving to Level Orange, that does not mean restaurants can now operate under Level Yellow, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association.
State officials said counties participating in the 5 Star program need to maintain the required Orange Level metrics for 14 days, which includes an incidence rate of less than 350 per 100,000 people, a positivity rate under 15% and decreasing or stable hospitalizations for more than eight days to operate under Five Start Level Yellow.
The state will be in contact with local health officials to provide additional information.
Restaurants have welcomed the news of the move to Level Orange allowing them to reopen indoor dining at a 25% capacity, though questions still remain on what the future will hold.
Some health officials, however, have argued against indoor dining. In a co-authored op-ed in The Denver Post, Dr. Jonathan Samet, the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, and Elizabeth Carlton, associate professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz, wrote: "In study after study, restaurants are linked to coronavirus spread."
Polis announced the state would add an additional level to the state's dial, Level Purple, Nov. 17. Within the week, 20 counties moved to Level Red, where they stayed for about six weeks.