Larimer County starts stricter COVID-19 Level Red restrictions Tuesday

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Colorado's COVID-19 dial system, effective Nov. 20, 2020.

Tighter restrictions on businesses and gatherings in response to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Larimer County go into effect 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The decision to jump from Level Yellow to Red on the state’s COVID-19 risk dial was made by the Larimer County Board of Health on Nov. 20 after state officials demanded the county go to Level Orange, said Dr. Bernard Birnbaum, president of the board of health.

State officials also said if Larimer County didn’t act, it would be moved to Red as of Wednesday because its case numbers and positivity rate for the disease were so far out of compliance with guidelines set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The board had hoped to allow time to see the impact of targeted mitigation efforts put into effect Nov. 13 by Public Health Director Tom Gonzales, but data showing the extent of the disease in the community convinced the board to take swift action, Birnbaum said.

“My feeling was it became evident that not only were those efforts not working, but given that we had reached an exponential growth phase of the virus … we really needed to do something a little bit more strenuous to stop the spread,” he said.

COVID-19:Here’s where you can get a COVID-19 test in Larimer County

Delaying the start of the new restrictions, which include a ban on indoor dining at restaurants, until Tuesday was intended to give the county health department time to present clear messaging about Level Red to the community.

Larimer County joins 20 other Colorado counties at Level Red on the state’s risk dial for the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday, the county’s 14-day average for cases was around 900 per 100,000 residents, and the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing was at 12.4%. Local hospitals reported having 94 COVID patients.

To get the county out of Level Red will require significantly reducing the number of cases and the positivity rate to the extent state officials see the county is making headway in slowing the spread of the disease, Gonzales said.

COVID-19 in Colorado tracker: Larimer and state case, death and hospital data for November

The county board of health and the health department understand the impact stricter measures have on the local economy, Birnbaum said. And they have received a lot of pushback on how they are viewing the science regarding COVID-19.

But given the stress COVID-19 is having on hospitals and health care workers, action was needed “to protect the health system and save lives,” which is the board of health’s job, Birnbaum said.

“We’re not acting off of fear, we’re acting off of data,” he said. “We’re acting off of state and national recommendations.”

Vaccines for COVID-19 are coming, but will take many months to distribute to the community, he said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But that means we want the people to be there at the end of tunnel, too.”

Here’s what being at Level Red means:

  • People in high-risk populations should stay home.
  • Personal gatherings are not allowed, regardless of size.
  • Restaurants must close to indoor dining. Takeout, curbside and delivery services are still allowed.
  • Open air outdoor dining at restaurants is still allowed, but only for parties from the same household.
  • Last call for alcohol is 8 p.m. for onsite consumption, 10 p.m. for take out. Bars are closed if not serving food from a retail food establishment.
  • Retail stores may operate up to 50% capacity with increased curbside pick-up and delivery. Dedicated hours for seniors and at-risk populations are encouraged.
  • Offices may operate at no more than 10% capacity.
  • Gyms may operate at no more than 10% capacity.
  • Worship services are limited to 25% capacity or 50 people.
  • Personal services are limited to 25% capacity or 25 people.
  • In-person learning for preschool through fifth grade is suggested; middle schools can do in-person, hybrid or remote learning; and high schools are encouraged to do a hybrid or remote learning model; colleges and universities are encouraged to limit in-person instruction and move to remote learning.
  • Counties at this level are not eligible to apply for any new variances from the state, and any existing variances your county has will be reevaluated.
  • Indoor entertainment events are canceled.

Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at kevinduggan@coloradoan.com.