New state dial to loosen some restrictions before expiring in April |

New state dial to loosen some restrictions before expiring in April

5-star restaurants in Summit County can operate at 100% capacity, but the 6-foot distancing rule is still in place

Highside Brewery line cook Tyler Burnett prepares food for restaurant guests Tuesday, March 23, in Frisco. Summit County restaurants participating in the 5 Star State Certification Program can now operate at 100% capacity, but 6 feet of spacing between tables must be maintained.
Photo by Ashley Low

A third version of the state’s COVID-19 dial was released Tuesday night and took effect Wednesday, loosening restrictions for counties in levels yellow through green and making it easier for counties to move into the least restrictive levels. The dial is expected to expire in mid-April, putting restrictions back in the hands of local health departments.

At a virtual town hall Wednesday, Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the new dial was released in response to increasing vaccination rates across the state.

“When the dial is retired in mid-April, that doesn’t mean that restrictions are going away,” Lawrence said. “That means it goes back to a lot more local control, similar to what we had early on. And I can tell you now, we will still have restrictions in place in mid-April here in Summit County unless something drastically changes with our numbers. But we are not yet at a point where we can just open up completely, so we’re still going to need some restrictions here.”

Levels yellow and blue

A change that will kick in right away in Summit County, which is in level yellow, is the elimination of capacity restrictions for restaurants and gyms that are participating in the 5 Star State Certification Program. Five-star restaurants and gyms in counties that are in levels blue and yellow can operate at 100% capacity, but 6 feet of distance between groups must be maintained.

With the 6-foot rule still in place, restaurant owners say their capacities are at a standstill because they cannot add more tables.

Summit County Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott acknowledged the change likely won’t mean much for area businesses.

“We know that this is a more limiting factor in most of our restaurant facilities … because they were struggling to get to 50% capacity even, with spacing tables and patrons 6 feet,” Hendershott said.

Hendershott added that the 6-foot rule is likely here to stay until herd immunity is reached.

“We’re just really trying to cripple the virus and limit the number of people it can potentially affect,” Hendershott said. “And until we get to that point, these very basic control measures of 6 feet and masks will probably be with us, and so it’s really going to be dependent on when we get to that 70% to 80% of full vaccination status when some of that will be softened. The state has hinted that by mid-summer they might look at starting to drop some of that, but that’s very speculative.”

Events will also have reduced restrictions for counties in levels yellow and blue.

Five-star certified indoor events can operate at a 50% capacity with a 500-person limit for counties in level blue. In level yellow, the limit is 225 people for seated events and 175 people for unseated events.

Five-star outdoor events in counties in levels yellow and blue will be subject to local restrictions only, but certifying an outdoor event with the five-star program is not yet an option in Summit County. Hendershott said the county might open the program to outdoor events this summer when there is more demand.

“Counties may choose to implement capacity restrictions on outdoor events at the local level,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said. “So we could always be more restrictive at the local level, not less restrictive.”

Levels blue and green

Counties in level blue can reopen bars with a capacity of 25% and a limit of 75 people. That’s a big step forward for bars, which have been closed nearly the entire pandemic with the exception of 11 days in June when they were permitted to reopen before being ordered to shutter again.

Bars in Summit County have adapted to operate as restaurants, serving food in order to fulfill the state public health order and operate under restaurant restrictions.

Also in level blue, retail, offices and noncritical manufacturing can open to 75% capacity, up from 50%.

Many of the dial changes apply to level green. The new dial makes the threshold for moving into the least-restrictive level easier to achieve, as counties can qualify with up to 35 news COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people instead of 15 cases, as the previous dial required. Most restrictions have been removed from level green, except bars and indoor events remain capped at 50% or 500 people, whichever is fewer.

While counties previously had to go through a certification process to enter level green, they can now move to the least-restrictive level once the three metrics — incidence rate, positivity rate and hospitalizations — have been met.

In addition to releasing the new dial, the state also removed all limits on personal gathering sizes, but Summit’s public health order, which limits gatherings to no more than 10 people from two households, remains in effect. That’s unlikely to change, Wineland said, as Summit teeters on the edge of level orange.

The state also extended its mask mandate until April 4, after that it is expected counties in level green would have a mask order only in schools, among congregate care visitors and other high-risk settings. The existing state mask mandate is expected to remain in counties in level blue and lower.

At a glance

The state’s new COVID-19 dial alters the case counts per 100,000 people allowed in each level:

Level green: zero to 35 new cases Level blue: 36 to 100 new casesLevel yellow: 101 to 300 new casesLevel orange: 301 to 500 new casesLevel red: 501 or more new cases

Summit County is in level yellow, but rising incidence and positivity rates threaten to send the county back to a more-restrictive level. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the county’s incidence rate was 316 new cases per 100,000 people and its positivity rate was 8.1%, both of which fall in level orange.

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