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Several Colorado counties facing new restrictions amid surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations

Adams, Arapahoe, Crowley, Denver, Kit Carson, La Plata, Mesa, Otero and Prowers all face new restrictions
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Posted at 3:04 PM, Oct 27, 2020

DENVER – Nine Colorado counties are moving backward this week on the state’s COVID-19 response dial and will have to implement more restrictions because of a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

Adams County announced last Friday that it would be moving to Safer at Home Level 3 restrictions effective Wednesday, and Denver on Tuesday announced it would be doing the same at the behest of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Kit Carson County will move to Safer at Home Level 2 on Wednesday as well, the CDPHE said late Tuesday.

La Plata County moved to Safer at Home Level 2 on Monday, and Mesa County — an early COVID-19 success story touted by the state for its low case levels and response — moved from the Protect Our Neighbors Phase to Safer at Home Level 1 amid increasing case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations there.

Otero and Crowley counties will move to Safer at Home Level 2 on Friday, the state said.

Arapahoe County, whose incidence rate was just under 300 and whose positivity rate was 6.95% as of Tuesday, will move to Safer at Home Level 2 on Wednesday, officials there said.

“Blunting the spread of COVID now, at the onset of the annual flu season, is especially crucial to ensuring that we don’t overburden our hospital system in the County and throughout Colorado,” said Arapahoe County Board Chair Nancy N. Sharpe. “We share everyone’s frustration at these restrictions, but our numbers are rising in ways that jeopardize our ability to keep the County open without further mitigation efforts.”

Prowers County Public Health and Environment said Wednesday the county will be moving to Safer at Home Level 2 on Friday, as the positivity rate there was 11.6% as of Monday afternoon.

“If we move back another level we will have to go to remote/hybrid learning again and our economy will further suffer from the increased restrictions,” the health department said.

The health department also said that there was been a “devastating” COVID-19 outbreak at Lamar Estates nursing home in Lamar. Twenty-nine residents and 31 staff have tested positive in the outbreak, and the health department said there have been three deaths associated with the outbreak.

Several Colorado counties have warned residents over the past week that they could see further restrictions, like those imposed this week, if they did not reverse the course of their coronavirus case counts, positivity rates, or hospital bed capacities, which have all risen steadily in recent weeks across much of the state.

“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 in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

All nine counties have submitted mitigation trends and are working to reverse their trends, the CDPHE said.

The move from Level 1 to Level 2 will mean indoor worship services are reduced from 175 to 50; only 50 people can attend a gym at once; restaurant attendees will be limited to 50 or 100 of there is adequate space; group sports will be limited at 25 people; and indoor events can only have 100 people attend, which outdoor events will be capped at 175 people.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updated its Safer at Home public health order late Tuesday 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.

In Safer at Home Level 2 communities, gyms can operate at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. And in Safer at Home Level 1 communities, gyms can operate at. 25% capacity or up to 75 people, whoever 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.

In places moving to Level 3 restrictions, the following will apply:

  • 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.

To go back to Level 2, counties in Level 3 will have to reduce their average daily case rate to 175 and hold those numbers for two weeks, which Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday “could take a while” regarding Denver’s situation.

The counties said they have already heard from business owners concerned about what the further restrictions might do for their businesses – many of which have struggled under limited capacities.

But state and local officials on Tuesday said that they needed to be proactive now before the situation gets worse. A new modeling data projection released last week by the CDPHE and Colorado School of Public Health showed the state of Colorado will exceed the April peak in hospitalizations within the next few months if Coloradans don’t act quickly to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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.

Colorado also this week has its highest total number of hospitalizations and highest seven-day average of admissions since May, Gov. Jared Polis said in a news conference Tuesday in which survivors of the virus described their harrowing ordeals.

“Grateful to be alive”: COVID-19 survivors share stories of weeks in the hospital

But he also noted that the length of hospital stays has decreased slightly from the initial days of fighting the virus in the spring and said the mortality rate continued to fall because of younger people getting sick and more treatment breakthroughs. But he was adamant that ICU bed capacity could still be stressed if people’s behavior surrounding the virus does not change, combined with the flu season and other people who need medical treatment at hospitals.

Several of the survivors who spoke at Tuesday’s news conference said they would have died had their not been the hospital capacity to treat them earlier this year, and the CDPHE’s Scott Bookman said that “a number” of hospitals in Colorado are already being stressed, which he called “concerning.”

He and Hancock, Denver’s mayor, stressed that people needed to take the virus seriously and believe in the science around masks and distancing in order to help curb the spread – not a new message from either, but one they hammered home again on Tuesday.

“I know that we all long to get back to normal,” Polis said. “But now is not the time to let down our guard. We can’t stop doing what we know. The path we’re on is up to us.”