DENVER – Due to an ongoing rise in the COVID-19 positivity rate and increasing hospitalizations, Denver will move to the Safer at Home Level 3, meaning businesses will face further restrictions regarding the capacities at which they can operate.
The Denver mayor’s office confirmed the further restrictions Tuesday morning. Mayor Michael Hancock announced the city’s move to the second-most restrictive level of the state’s COVID-19 dial framework and more details at a news conference at 11:30 a.m., which you can watch in the player below.
The Safer at Home Level 3 restrictions will be in effect as of Wednesday, according to the letter to Denver from the CDPHE.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updated its Safer at Home public health order to give more leeway to gym owners to operate indoors.
In Safer at Home Level 3 communities, like Denver and Adams County starting Wednesday, gyms will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity or with 25 people inside, whichever is fewer.
“The change comes after feedback from stakeholders and local public health agencies, as well as assessing case interview and outbreak data,” the CDPHE said in a release.
The CDPHE told Denver that its positivity rate over 7%, that the city saw 2,800 new cases over a two-week period, and a case rate of 385 per 100,000 people were reasons for the new restrictions.
The Level 3 restrictions will mean:
- Restaurants can operate at 25% of the occupancy limit indoors so long as the number does not exceed 50 people – down from the Level 2 50% capacity allowance.
- Places of worship and life rites can operate at 25% capacity or 50 people.
- Non-critical manufacturing and offices will have to operate at 25% capacity instead of 50% capacity.
- Retail moves from 50% capacity. To 25% capacity, as do personal services.
- Indoor events can operate at 50% capacity or 25 people, whichever is fewer.
The changes do not impact variances granted to the Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo and Cherry Creek Mall.
Hancock said during the news conference he expects last call will also move back to 10 p.m.
To go back to Level 2, Denver will have to reduce its average daily case rate to 175 and hold those numbers for two weeks.
“It could be a little while before we are able to be upgraded,” Hancock said.
Hancock said that he believes the increase is due in part to more people coming into the Capitol city.
“I don’t believe this is Denver’s failing,” Hancock said at the news conference. “It is a failure by those who still refuse to believe in science.”
"These are not political words. This isn’t fear mongering. That’s just how the virus works,” Hancock added.
Hancock said he was concerned about the further restrictions and their impacts on Denver businesses, saying he talked to some restaurant and tavern owners Tuesday morning who said they were “barely hanging on” in Level 2 restrictions and that they were concerned about how long the Level 3 restrictions might last.
“We want to do everything we can to avoid shutting down our economy again,” Hancock said. “We have a responsibility to once again put our hands on this boulder and push it back up the hill. … We want to avoid [an economic shutdown] at all costs."
McDonald said Tuesday it is “a real possibility if everyone doesn’t contribute” that Denver could have to move back to a stay-at-home order and said that compliance would be key to avoid another one. And he said that moving back now would be better than waiting to do so.
“It’s important to understand the longer we hold off with public health orders … the less effective the restrictions will be,” McDonald said.
Hancock echoed those statements, saying that people needed to be smarter about how they deal with the virus while they are in public.
“We need folks to trust and believe that science matters … we need people to be smarter about their engagement,” Hancock said.
Denver had been in Safer at Home Level 2, as has been much of the state since the new framework was announced, but the city and other municipalities in the metro area and other parts of the state have warned in the past week they could move backward because of the surge in new cases, increasing positivity rates and hospitalizations.
Colorado Restaurant Association concerned
The Colorado Restaurant Association is worried about what this latest round of restrictions will mean for its members that are already struggling.
The CRA says hundreds of eateries across the state have closed permanently during the pandemic and that the new restrictions will cause even more to shut down, resulting in furloughs or layoffs.
Restaurants are a significant employer in Colorado and contribute to local tax revenue, which could also be affected by the latest restrictions.
“Half of restaurants have told us within six months they are permanently closing under the current conditions. Now, let’s add further restrictions to that and I think you’re going to start seeing more and more restaurants closed permanently,” said president and CEO Sonia Riggs.
Many restaurants have taken safety precautions above the city or state requirements in terms of sanitation, and during Tuesday’s press conference, the mayor stressed that most restaurants are doing the right thing.
“The fact that those that are working so diligently to keep people safe are now being forced to go into tighter restrictions is really frustrating,” Riggs said.
Outdoor dining will still be allowed under the Level 3 restrictions — something Caleb Benton, the director of operations for Gastamo Group, is thankful for.
“We just hope that it’s a short opportunity for us to make an improvement and then hopefully back to business as normal when we get closer to the holidays,” Benton said.
He was hoping for a little more notice from the city before changes went into effect. Benton says they’re adding outdoor tents with heating and ventilation, admitting it’s not ideal but they are adapting to the changes.
“We’ve been thankful that guests have been really patient with us as we work through to go programs and complicated ordering integration and experiencing technical glitches,” Benton said.
Riggs is asking the public to consider take-out and delivery options to help restaurants and to follow health protocol so businesses can get back to normal more quickly.
Similar restrictions in other counties
Adams County’s Level 3 restrictions will take effect on Wednesday after the county announced it had to move back last Friday.
On Monday, both Denver and Boulder warned they faced further restrictions as well.
“Denver’s #COVID19 situation is looking bad. Really bad. No seriously, what we are doing isn’t working. This could force us into another Stay at Home order. We can do better. Wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and wash your hands,” the city of Denver tweeted on Monday.
Denver reported 140 new cases on Monday but 375 on Sunday, which was the highest number since the start of the pandemic. The two-week cumulative incidence rate on Tuesday was 378.2
And hospitalizations in Denver have risen steadily since the end of last month, with the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations at 73 as of Sunday.
Two weeks ago, Hancock and other city officials warned that the city was in “another make-or-break moment” regarding the coronavirus and said if people did not adhere better to mask wearing, social distancing and gathering rules that more restrictions would be put in place.
On Oct. 16, Denver reduced the number of unrelated people allowed to gather in an unregulated setting from 10 to five and put rules in place saying masks would be required outdoors for people who are with others not from their household and when social distancing is not possible.
And last week, the CDPHE amended its public health order to say that Colorado counties in the Safer at Home levels would be limited to 10 people or less from no more than two different households.
Colorado saw its largest single-day increase in novel coronavirus cases with 2,102 reported on Monday. The average number of tests that have come back positive over the past week rose to 6.67% as of Monday, and there were 591 hospital beds in use by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients across the state.
Along with Adams and Denver, several other counties will also be moving to more-restrictive response levels this week.
La Plata County moved to Safer at Home Level 2 and Mesa County moved to Safer at Home Level 1 on Monday.
And Arapahoe County will move to Safer at Home Level 2 on Wednesday, then Otero and Crowley counties will move to Safer at Home Level 2 on Friday, the CDPHE said.
All seven counties have submitted mitigation trends and are working to reverse their trends, the department said.
“We need everyone to stay vigilant. Colorado is experiencing a swift rise in cases right now that is worrisome,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan. “As we head into winter and spend more time indoors, the virus is going to be harder to suppress. The dial is designed for the long haul, in an attempt to control infections based on local conditions. We are grateful for the cooperation of counties, and the seriousness with which they are taking their response.”