New COVID-19 dial makes it easier to get to lowest level of restrictions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado is revising its COVID-19 restrictions again, making it easier for counties to reach the lowest green level on the dial framework and laying out a plan to do away with state level restrictions by the middle of April.
The draft of the new dial 3.0 framework was released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday. Comments on the revised dial were accepted over the weekend, and the new dial will be put in place Wednesday with any potential revisions. The final version of the plan will be unveiled during a news conference Tuesday.
Under the new dial, things for Routt County will stay largely the same initially, as the seven-day case incident rate is about 130 cases per 100,000 people, according to state data. This is still within the metrics for level yellow on the updated dial, which the county has been in since shortly after dial 2.0 went into place last month.
The most significant changes to restrictions were in the blue and green levels and would affect Routt County only if cases decreased enough to reach those levels. To get to level blue, case incidence would need to drop below 100 cases per 100,000, which would be about 25 cases in the county. In the most recent week, the county reported 35 new cases.
Under the new level blue, capacities in offices and retail businesses would increase to 75% capacity, up from 50% in the current dial. Gyms and fitness centers would also see an increase in capacity to 50%, up from the current 25%.
The upper threshold for being in level green was increased from 15 to 35 cases per 100,000 people in an attempt to allow more counties to move to this level, which drops many of the restrictions currently in place. At level green, there would be no restrictions on personal gatherings, restaurants, manufacturing, offices, retail businesses or personal services.
To reach level green, Routt County would need to see single-digit cases in a seven-day span.
Bars will be allowed to open for the first time in months under the new dial with 25% capacity at level blue and 50% capacity at level green.
The state also is doing away with its own restrictions on personal gatherings and will instead align its guidance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for those both fully vaccinated and those waiting to get their shots. These guidelines still strongly recommend avoiding larger gatherings and crowds.
State health officials said it is safe to lower restrictions now because more than 80% of Coloradans 70 and older have been vaccinated, the worry about the state’s hospital system being threatened has declined, and many counties have requested local control back from the state.
“Because of the commitment of all Coloradans, we are where we are now, able to be less restrictive and provide local communities and their public health agencies more control while still protecting the public’s health,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan. “It’s all about a balance. We’ve enacted the restrictions we need to slow the disease while attempting to limit the ramifications of closing down parts of the state and the impacts that come with that.”
Still, the state warns that 22% of deaths and 62% of hospitalizations during the pandemic have been among people younger than 70, and various COVID-19 variants have been reported in Colorado.
As currently planned, this new version of the dial would be in place until April 15. After that, the dial will become guidance that counties can choose to implement or not. A separate statewide order would then be put in place to limit indoor gatherings to 50% capacity or 500 people.
That order would also outline how the state would increase restrictions in a county if the local hospital capacity was suddenly threatened.
There will also be changes to the mask mandate when it is extended on April 4, creating different mask rules for level green and for the rest of the levels. At level green, masks would be required only in schools, among congregate care visitors and in some other high-risk settings.
At the rest of the levels on the dial, masks would be required in indoor public settings with more than 10 people gathering together.
Routt County commissioners discussed the changes in a meeting Monday morning where they each said they generally approved of the new dial.
Commissioner Beth Melton said knowing what could happen with the mask order was important to give counties time to plan how they will deal with changes.
“I think that was a big request from a lot of counties,” Melton said. “Please don’t leave us until the 11th hour to know whether we need to extend it, change it or anything else.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.