Colorado issues order limiting indoor crowds as COVID dial expires

Many counties choose to continue dial restrictions on their own


Colorado allowed its “dial” of coronavirus restrictions to expire as expected in mid-April, clearing the path for local public health agencies to decide what limits to enforce on businesses and other public settings.

The stepping back of most state-required limits came even as Coloradans found themselves in a fourth wave of COVID-19, with new cases and hospitalizations on the rise after months of decline.

With increased vaccination rates, “the state's role in continuing to mandate statewide restrictions is lessening, and the role of local communities to regulate and manage the virus is increasing,” the state public-health department said in an April 16 news release.

The state's color-coded COVID-19 dial was the set of restrictions counties had to follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affected capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial last Sept. 15.

With the statewide order behind the dial now expired, Colorado issued a new public health order that maintains some limits on large indoor gatherings.

Meanwhile, most Denver metro-area counties announced plans to continue level-blue limits, which were the second-least restrictive stage of the dial system. Those counties include Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Jefferson, Boulder and Broomfield, according to the state's news release.

The decision for Adams and Arapahoe came when the Tri-County Health Department extended a modified version of the state's dial system for one month. Tri-County Health covers those two counties and Douglas County, whose elected leaders voted to opt out of that extension during an April 13 meeting.

Douglas was expected to no longer operate under any restrictions other than the new statewide order on large indoor gatherings. The county also remains under the statewide mask mandate.

But if a county's hospitalizations threaten to exceed 85% of hospital capacity, Colorado's new public health order allows the state to require additional restrictions.

Here's a look at how the new health order affects large indoor gatherings.

Mass events targeted

Under the new statewide order, when more than 100 people gather in a room in a public indoor space, the setting may operate at 100% capacity or up to 500 people, with 6 feet required between parties of unvaccinated people or when vaccination status is unknown. The order took effect April 16.

“Public indoor space” means any enclosed indoor area that is publicly or privately owned, managed, or operated that is accessible to the public, serves as a place of employment, or provides services.

The term does not include a person's residence, including a room in a hotel or a residential room for students at an educational facility.

Under the order, existing “variances” — or exceptions — remain in effect, including 5-Star approvals granted by a county. That's a reference to Colorado's 5-Star State Certification Program, which has allowed businesses to operate with expanded capacity if they follow stepped-up COVID-19 safety protocols.

Venues may apply to their local public health agency for a variance to exceed 500 people, which needs to be finally approved by the state public-health department.

Settings that aren't affected

The order's requirements do not apply to the following settings:

• Places of worship and associated ceremonies.

• Retail services.

• Restaurants that run sit-down dining and do not have unseated areas where 100 or more people could gather, such as dance floors or common gathering areas.

School proms and graduations that wish to exceed the thresholds are subject to approval by local public health agencies in accordance with the state's prom and graduation guidance.

Stricter previous rules may still apply

If a county continues blue restrictions, then those more-restrictive standards still apply. For a county staying in level blue, the standard wouldn't change if an event exceeds 100 people — it would still be limited to 50% capacity or up to 175 people, whichever is less, per room, according to the Colorado State Joint Information Center, which takes questions for the state public-health department.

Under level blue restrictions, if the event was a seated event, it could run at 100% capacity with a minimum of 6 feet between groups of up to 10 individuals indoors per room, excluding staff. That's according to how the limits were written in the April 4 update to the state dial order.

Under the 5-Star program, certified businesses in level blue could operate indoor events at 50% capacity, not to exceed 500 people, according to the April 4 order.

Other state restrictions still in place

Under the new health order, the state public-health department may require counties whose resident hospitalizations threaten to exceed 85% of hospital or hospital system capacity to implement additional restrictions.

The statewide mask order also remains in effect.

In counties with one-week incidence rates — rates of new cases — above 35 per 100,000 people, masks are required to be worn by individuals 11 and older in public indoor spaces where 10 or more unvaccinated individuals or “individuals of unknown vaccination status” are present. That's according to the text of the April 3 extension of the mask order.

That range for new-case rates corresponded to counties in levels blue, yellow, orange, red and purple under the state's dial framework.

The list of settings where masks are required in counties with new-case rates of 35 or fewer per 100,000 people — rates that corresponded to level green — now only includes preschool through grade 12 schools, child care centers, health care settings, prisons and jails, and some other facilities.

Colorado, COVID-19, indoor events, large gatherings, public health order, dial, Ellis Arnold


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