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Mayor Hancock hitting the “pause button” on new variances amid spike in COVID-19 cases in Denver

Posted at 12:42 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 19:33:16-04

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he is hitting “the pause button” when it comes to submitting new variance requests to the state amid a recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Businesses and venues that have already received variances to reopen, like the Denver Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, will be allowed to continue to operate.

Mayor Hancock made the announcement during a press briefing Wednesday, where he opened by revealing the city is seeing an increase in case numbers, positivity rates and hospitalization rates.

“We continue to see a troubling increase in data, and it’s data that will determine the decisions we may need to make going forward,” Hancock said.

In Denver, the 7-day running average for case rates has increased from 53.7 (two weeks ago) to 68.6 as of Wednesday, according to Hancock. The city is seeing a positivity rate of around 4-5% and holding steady. However, that rate was 2.7% in June, the mayor said. Hospital rates are also rising, but the mayor said capacity is being met.

Statewide, Colorado is in a similar pattern. Tuesday’s hospital data showed 378 hospital beds in use by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, up 45 from Monday. Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also shows 444 new cases of the virus were reported Tuesday.

“This recent spike that we’re seeing is extremely concerning,” Hancock said. “But we’re in a place where if we stay focused, we can reverse the trend.”

The mayor did not provide a timeline on the moratorium on submitting new variances for businesses and attractions to reopen. Variances or waivers, granted by the state, allow applicants to relax some of the state's guidelines from the safer-at-home order, such as having restaurants and bars open for business and allowing places like gyms and houses of worship to spring back into life.

Echoing Gov. Jared Polis, the mayor stressed the need for residents to wear masks and acknowledged neighboring communities and health departments who have implemented mask mandates similar to the one Denver has instituted. He said he is beefing up mask-wearing enforcement efforts across the city, and officials will be visiting sites to observe compliance.

Polis again said Tuesday his office has not ruled out a statewide mask mandate, but said that local counties and municipalities have a much higher ability to enforce mask orders through local police, deputies and health agencies than the state does.

Hancock said he is preparing for the eventuality of rolling back some reopening measures if the numbers continue to spike. However, he did not say specifically what that might look like if those decisions were made.

The mayor also touted the success of the mass testing site at the Pepsi Center, where over 50,000 tests have been done since the center has opened. He said the city is working to keep the center opened until the end of July. In addition, he announced the city would be setting up seven community-based test days through the end of the month. Information on dates and locations of the sites will be released in the coming days.