The majority of Colorado counties loosened their COVID-19 restrictions Friday as the state’s dial framework expired and hospitalizations were on the rise in some places.
Each county can now decide on its own restrictions, though the state could require counties to tighten the rules if they’re on track to go over 85% of hospital capacity. It also will continue to regulate large events and require masks in some settings.
Ending the dial, which attempted to standardize reopening decisions based on cases compared to population, hospitalizations and the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive, comes as coronavirus hospitalizations are at their highest number since Feb. 5 (551), according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
As of Friday afternoon, 28 counties had said they didn’t intend to set local public health rules, meaning most businesses don’t face any COVID-19 restrictions, other than requiring masks if more than 10 people will be in the same room. Most of them would have been in one of the two loosest tiers — Level Green or Level Blue — with a few exceptions.
Douglas and Weld counties, which both removed their restrictions Friday, have seen hospitalizations rise at least seven days in the last two weeks. That, combined with the high percentage of positive tests, would have pushed them under the dial into Level Orange, where most businesses are limited to 25% capacity.
Departure from the state’s metrics is widespread. Most of the Denver area will move into Level Blue, which removes the cap on customers in restaurants and gyms, as long as different parties stay six feet apart. Of the 12 counties statewide that will be in Level Blue, only Gunnison and San Miguel had the necessary numbers under the old framework.
Tri-County Health Department, which lead the metro-wide move, said the plan was to move each county down a level for a month before moving to a new “Level Clear,” where hospital capacity will dictate any future restrictions.
Although 31 counties have enough cases to keep them in Level Yellow (under which businesses are limited to 50% capacity), only four were largely following those restrictions as of Friday. Eagle, Pitkin and Pueblo counties said they planned to continue using the old metrics to determine if it was time to loosen restrictions, with an added requirement that 60% of the eligible population be vaccinated in Eagle County.
Summit County said it would temporarily remain in Level Yellow, but raised the number of cases it considered acceptable to move to Level Blue. Its public health order also said that metrics could only loosen restrictions, not tighten them.
Six counties haven’t announced their plans: Garfield, Hinsdale, Jackson, Mineral, Rio Blanco and Saguache. In some cases, their local health boards haven’t met to take a vote on whether to keep any restrictions.
Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the state health department, said that more than half of counties, which are home to 3.7 million Coloradans, have some type of local restrictions.
“We want local governments to be able to move nimbly, creating local protocols where necessary to protect their communities,” she said in a news release. “We believe protocols at the local level are an appropriate path — allowing us to balance the need for economic recovery and the need to slow transmission — two things that have a tremendous impact on overall public health.”
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