Colorado changes COVID-19 dial, allowing Denver and other large counties 50% capacity

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DENVER — Colorado officials on Friday unveiled changes to the state’s COVID-19 dial, bringing less restrictions for most Colorado counties, including Denver, but also putting in place measures that can more quickly increase restrictions if cases rise.

The levels on the dial — green, blue, yellow, red and purple — remain the same. But a widening of metrics for each level will bump many counties from Level Orange to Level Yellow when the new dial goes into effect 9 a.m. Saturday.

To put it simply: Denver restaurants and businesses will be allowed to expand capacity limits to 50%, or up to 50, whichever is fewer. Larger spaces may expand up to 150 people, using the state’s social distancing calculator.

The same goes for the rest of metro Denver counties, including Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, Adams and Boulder. All will move from Level Orange — which limited indoor capacity to 25% — to Level Yellow.

Level Yellow’s metrics include seven-day case incidence rates of 100-300 per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 7.5% or less. The previous metrics for Level Yellow were two-week case incidence rates of 75-175 per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 10% or less.

Gov. Jared Polis and Jill Hunsacker Ryan, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, announced the changes in a news conference Friday.

Denver and other counties had begun implementing the state’s 5 Star program, which allows pre-certified businesses to operate outside of their county’s COVID-19 dial level. In Denver, for example, the first few hundred businesses certified through the 5 Star program this week would have been allowed to operate under Level Yellow restrictions, instead of Level Orange.

Now, all Denver businesses and restaurants will be allowed to operate under Level Yellow. Those certified through the 5 Star program will be allowed to operate under Level Blue restrictions when 70% of the state’s 70-and-up population is vaccinated, state officials said Friday.

Polis said the state has vaccinated about 250,000 70-and-up residents, about 64% toward its goal 70% by the end of February.

While the updated dial was likely welcome news for business owners, the update will also allow for more restrictive measures to be put in place quicker.

Under the previous dial system, a county with rising COVID-19 metrics would get a chance to form a mitigation plan to avoid moving to a more restrictive level. That won’t be the case under the updated dial. If cases rise in a county, the county will move to a more restrictive level quicker.

On the flip side, counties with decreasing numbers will be allowed to move to less restrictive levels faster. The state will consider a 7-day average of cases in determining a county’s COVID-19 level, instead of a 14-day average.

The change to the COVID-19 dial comes amid a decline in hospitalizations and cases across Colorado. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate has dipped from November and December highs above 12% to below 5% over the last week.

Hospitals this week deactivated the Combined Hospital Transfer Center due to a decline in hospitalizations.

Polis was asked if some businesses that applied through the 5 Star program might be frustrated by the dial change after completing the application process this week. Polis encouraged all businesses to still apply for the program, pointing out two factors: When the state reaches its 70-and-up vaccination goal, 5 Star businesses will be able to operate under Level Blue restrictions; and if Denver or other Level Yellow counties get bumped back to Level Orange, the 5 Star businesses will be allowed to stay in Level Yellow.