March 20: Colorado will further relax COVID-19 restrictions administered through the state’s color-coded dial next week, with plans to make it easier to order masks statewide in two weeks and then hand over control of the most public health orders to local governments in mid-April.
Proposed changes to the dial include the reopening of bars in most parts of the state for the first time since last summer and the lifting of all state limits on the size of personal gatherings.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released the draft plan for what it calls “Dial 3.0” late Friday and requested public comment on the proposed changes, which will take effect, with possible modifications, on Wednesday.
The main goal of the new plan: to make it easier for counties to reach the Green Tier, the lower end of the dial, and to remove most of the virus-related restrictions in counties at that stage of the dial, including any limits on meal capacity in the restaurants.
Other changes would allow bars to reopen in Level Blue counties at reduced capacity and lift all capacity limits on outdoor events in Level Green and Blue counties.
The plan released Friday night also calls for a modified state mask order to be issued on April 4. That directive would eliminate mask requirements in Level Green counties for all except students ages 11 to 18 until the end of the school year.
Private companies and local governments could still issue their own mask mandates.
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For the blue, yellow, orange and red levels, the mask mandate would remain in effect for that same group of students and for any indoor public place with 10 or more people present. The existing state mask order would remain in effect for counties that reach the Purple Level, the highest phase.
Under this plan, Dial 3.0 would remain in effect until April 16, at which point a new public health order would be issued statewide to maintain limits on indoor gatherings without seats. Beyond that, the dial and previous state public health orders would become a guide that local governments may or may not choose to follow.
The announcement of further changes to the state’s COVID-19 dial came on the same day the state opened vaccination eligibility to 2.5 million more people, and as public health officials acknowledge a growing number of most contagious coronavirus variant infections in the state and a plateau in total cases and hospitalizations.
“Because of the commitment of all Coloradans, we are where we are now, we can be less restrictive and give local communities and their public health agencies more control while protecting public health,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Director state executive. health department, in a statement. “This is a balance. We have enacted the restrictions we need to curb the disease as we try to limit the ramifications of shutting down parts of the state and the impacts that come with it.”
Colorado implemented the color-coded dial in September as a way to move the state’s 64 counties to different levels of public health restrictions based on local transmission of the virus and COVID-19 hospitalizations.
However, the state has changed the metrics on the dial multiple times since then, including the addition of a new upper end, the purple tier, when it appeared that many counties were heading toward another lockdown and a relaxation of restrictions with the release of “Dial 2.0” last month.
Currently, only two counties are on the Green Tier, Crowley and Otero, and 45 are on the Blue Tier, the second-lowest tier of restrictions. Level Blue counties in the metropolitan area include Arapahoe and Jefferson.
The remaining 17 counties are on the Yellow Level, the next stage on the dial, and that includes Denver, Adams, Douglas and Boulder counties. Broomfield had moved to the Blue Level, but earlier this month he returned to the Yellow Level.
Denver recently came close to qualifying for the Blue Tier before a small spike in cases pushed the city back; the numbers are trending in that direction again, and the city may qualify sometime next week.
Changes to the Dial 3.0 plan include:
– Green Tier metrics change to make it easier for counties to reach that stage, going to 35 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people from 15 cases per 100,000
– Most restrictions at Level Green are completely removed, including dining room covers for restaurants. Indoor bars, gyms and events would still be held with a 50% capacity limit or 500 person limit, whichever is less
– The metrics for the blue tier would also change, from 36 to 100 cases per 100,000 people, from 15 to 100 cases per 100,000
– Bars could reopen on the Blue Level, with a capacity limit of 25% or 75 people, whichever is less.
– Outdoor events on the green and blue tiers would not have capacity restrictions, unless counties decided to implement them locally.
– Retail, office and non-critical manufacturing in Level Blue counties could operate at 75% capacity, down from 50%
– There is no state limit on the size of personal gatherings, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends avoiding large gatherings.
– 5-star state-certified businesses in Level Blue counties could operate at 60% capacity, not to exceed 50 people over the limit for restaurants and indoor events, and 25 people over the limit for gyms.
State health officials say they are moving forward with the changes due to the growing number of Coloradans who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
By the middle of next month, the state health agency plans to move to “a more local model,” which would allow county health departments to take more control over the types of capacity restrictions currently dictated by the dial.
The state health department invites Coloradans to review the Dial 3.0 proposal and submit comments via an online form. The deadline for comments is noon on Monday. The state will release an updated draft on Tuesday, and the changes will go into effect Wednesday.
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