DENVER — On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Denver is focusing on two important aspects of recovery from the pandemic: getting the economy moving again and ensuring vaccinations for all Denver residents.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Hancock and other leaders in Denver outlined next steps for the 5 Star Program in Denver, reactivation of the city's Emergency Operations Center and an update on the vaccination process across the city and county.
"We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel," Hancock said. "The president's announcement that states will see a 16% increase in vaccine doses starting next week, that the U.S. is buying 200 million more doses, and that we will start to get three-week look-ahead reports — all of this really means we are at the beginning of the end. But we have a lot, a lot, I mean a lot, of work to do over the next few months."
Applying for the 5 Star Program in Denver
On Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 10 a.m., local businesses can fill out and submit applications for the state's 5 Star Certification Program in Denver.
The city received conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to implement this program, which will allow businesses and restaurants to increase capacity limits if they meet health and safety requirements. Denver County must maintain one week of stable or declining Level Orange metrics in order for the program to be fully implemented. If that occurs, the businesses who were pre-certified will be notified and issued their certification, Hancock said.
Starting Feb. 2, local businesses can apply to become pre-certified for the program. Hancock said processes are in place to ensure all businesses have the opportunity to participate in the program, nodding to the city's commitment to equity. The process is first-come, first-served basis and applications are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. A scheduled on-site audit will follow to earn the pre-certification approval. Hiraga said the inspectors will look for a variety of things during the audit and while it varies industry to industry, it may include reservations, ventilation, notification procedures in case of exposure and more. The state lists 30 to 40 points in its guidance and the city has a few additional aspects, he said.
This first round of applicants will have a "soft cap" at 500 applicants — to determine industries that are underrepresented and neighborhoods left behind, Hiraga said — and the second round is expected to open in two weeks. Because the process includes on-site inspections, it's a lot of ground to cover, he said.
Hancock added that it's important to roll out the program in an equitable manner.
"This is what great cities do if they want to really take care of their people and recognize there are neighborhoods and businesses, quite frankly, that don't have the same means in which to move as nimble and as fast as some have the ability to do so," he said.
Looking at the city's industry codes, as many as 7,000 businesses may be eligible in this first round, Hiraga said, but it's not clear how many of those will apply for the program.
Businesses can prepare to apply by watching a video and completing a pre-certification checklist, both of which are available at www.Denver5Star.org on the homepage and under the "Before You Apply" tab. This page and information is available to businesses now.
To help business prepare for the program, the city is holding three town halls:
- Monday, Feb. 1, 6 p.m. (Spanish, hosted by Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)
- Tuesday, Feb. 2, 9 a.m. (English, hosted by Denver Economic Development & Opportunity)
- Tuesday, Feb. 2, 5 p.m. (English, hosted by Denver Economic Development & Opportunity)
- Note: Invitation and links to join will be shared shortly on the city's social media.
Denver Economic Development & Opportunity Executive Director Eric Hiraga said they are excited to implement this program as it's a safe and effective way to reopen businesses that have been struggling to make ends meet throughout the pandemic.
"We think this could be a real game changer here in Denver," he said. "The launch of this program could not have come at a better time as more urgent relief is needed for businesses."
Last week, Denver received its leanest unemployment numbers: the city's rate increased from 7.2% in November to 9.3% in December, he said. .
Getting this program underway in Denver could be the difference between local businesses keeping their doors open or closing for good, and laying off people or getting them back to work, Hiraga said.
Mark Brinkerhoff, the owner of La Loma, which has locations in Denver and Castle Rock, said he was anxious to apply for Denver’s program, which he said would certainly help some in the short-term from where things stand today.
“It will be better. It won’t get us to where we need to be,” Brinkerhoff said. “I know a lot of our colleagues – as are we – we’re dying on the vine, and at this capacity level, we think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But obviously, we couldn’t survive like this long term.”
Department of Public Health & Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said right now, Colorado's two-week cumulative incidence rate per 100,000 people in Denver County is under 350 and if the county can maintain that for seven days, it can start implementing the 5 Star program and businesses can move to Level Yellow capacity limits. The rate is determined by the total number of cases from the last 14 days and divided by 7.2 to get the case rate per 100,000 people in Denver. Anything above 350 is considered Level Red.
The high level of compliance to public health recommendations is what's continuing to drive that incidence rate down, he said.
Visit www.Denver5Star.org for more information.
Reopening Denver's Emergency Operations Center to help with vaccination efforts
On Thursday, Hancock said he has ordered the reactivation of the city's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to ensure all city agencies are mobilized to respond to the pandemic. The center will be reactivated next week.
"As distribution ramps up more and more and more of our residents become eligible to receive the vaccine, the emergency operations center will focus our current efforts and infrastructure so we can be as effective and efficient as possible during this critical time."
This includes expanding access to the vaccine across more of the city and its neighborhoods, plus addressing equity challenges in coordination with the state and local partners, Hancock said.
Office of Emergency Management Executive Director Matt Mueller said by activating the EOC, the city can leverage all of the city's agencies to ensure efficiency in the collaborative efforts.
"The EOC's mission will be to provide clear and consistent public information about vaccinations, ensure equity in vaccine allocation and access, mobilize resources and ensure operational coordination of the vaccination effort between the city, the state and our community and health care partners," Mueller said.
Once it reactivates next week, the first focus will be establishing community partnerships and getting the vaccine to places that need it most, he said.
"The EOC stands ready to oversee the deployment of the necessary resources and infrastructure to build our capacity and ensure we get the vaccine to those that need it the most," Mueller said.
COVID-19 vaccine trends, phases in Denver, help for homeless individuals
Department of Public Health & Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said he's pleased to see that over the past few weeks, there has been a 35% decrease in COVID-19 cases across the country, but now is not the time to let up.
He said this percentage doesn't indicate any level of herd immunity just yet.
"I would suggest that it is way too early to be thinking that way," he said. "We need to be diligent. We can't be thinking about herd immunity yet. I'm very confident that we're going to get there a little bit later this year."
READ MORE: Here are answers to your COVID-19 vaccine-related questions
McDonald said Denver is currently continuing to work in Phase 1B and Phase 1A is complete. People 70 years old and up are in that phase and while there's not enough supply to vaccinate everyone in this demographic right now, he said he hopes to move through the process faster when more supply becomes available.
Equity needs to be the "north star" for the city's efforts through the vaccination process, he said. He said Denver is working with its partners to build a robust network to disperse the vaccines and reach the hard-to-reach communities, while communicating with the venues that those individuals are comfortable going to.
McDonald emphasized the vaccine is free and nobody needs insurance to receive it. Hancock added he understands this is a fear in the community and knows there are attempts to defraud people.
McDonald said when it comes to vaccinating the city's most vulnerable and unhoused individuals, the city has been using vaccination outreach teams to administer the vaccine in shelters and homeless camps on site to those who qualify. Denver's Office of Social Equity and Innovation is working with officials regarding the reopening of the EOC to ensure those vulnerable people are kept in mind.