New restrictions begin Friday as Summit County moves backward in reopening process
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include that there will not be further restrictions on indoor recreation and to clarify information about the proposed curfew.
KEYSTONE — With the announcement Wednesday night that Summit County is moving into the safer-at-home level orange phase of novel coronavirus response, county officials spent Thursday working out exactly what that means.
County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence announced Wednesday that the county officially will move backward on the dial at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6. With the change, places of worship, restaurants and retail stores are all limited to 25% capacity or up to 50 people, whichever is fewer.
On Oct. 29, the county was given one week to improve case numbers or move backward on the dial. Since then, both the county’s incidence rate (the number of new cases per 100,000 people) and positivity rate (the percentage of tests that return positive) have increased.
As of Thursday, Nov. 5, the county’s incidence rate was at 794 new cases per 100,000 people and the positivity rate was at 14.3%.
County officials met with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials Wednesday to discuss the county’s placement on the dial. In an interview Thursday, Lawrence said the meeting with the state was “very brief.”
“The state was very clear last week that if our numbers did not improve or level out that we were definitively going into this level orange, which is formally known as (Level) 3,” she said. “The very first sentence of the meeting was, ‘We’re moving you into level orange.’”
The additional restrictions imposed under the new level are in addition to changes the county already made to its local public health order in an effort to get numbers under control.
Those changes include restricting group gathering sizes to six people indoors and 10 people outdoors within no more than two household groups; implementing a 25% capacity limit on office spaces; implementing a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol at restaurants past 10 p.m.; and limiting short-term lodging group sizes to 10 people from no more than two household groups.
The county is looking at additional measures to add to the new public health order, which will be released Friday, County Manager Scott Vargo said. Those measures include a 10 p.m. curfew. There will not be further restrictions on indoor recreation, which was previously discussed.
Lawrence said the curfew was a suggestion from state officials.
“To keep ourselves out of stay-at-home, we really needed to show a good-faith effort to the state that we’re taking this seriously, and here are some additional restrictions that we will put in place to help try to control our numbers,” she said.
If the county ultimately implements the curfew, it would mean no gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and all nonessential businesses would have to close at that time, Vargo said. None of those details are official until the county releases its amended public health order, however.
“There would be exceptions, obviously, for folks that are at work for essential businesses, for gas stations and a variety of other things that would still need to operate despite the curfew,” Vargo said.
Vargo and Lawrence were unable to elaborate on details surrounding restrictions on indoor recreation. School sports will not be affected by any restrictions, however, as they are governed by the Colorado High School Activities Association.
Lawrence said the ultimate goal is to avoid moving back into the stay-at-home level of response, which would mean the closure of in-person activity at businesses, office spaces, schools, restaurants and bars.
“We certainly don’t want to be at stay-at-home,” she said. “That would be devastating for our economy and our mental health.”
Another major motivation to stay out of the stay-at-home phase is the upcoming ski season. Lawrence and Vargo said Summit’s new level orange designation won’t affect any ski areas’ plans to open.
“We believe that skiing outside is inherently safe; it’s more the ancillary activities associated with it (that risk transmission),” Lawrence said. “There’s lots of restrictions in place regarding all of those other things — retail, restaurants, shuttles, etc. — so those restrictions are in place, and the state feels very comfortable.”
In order for the county to return to its current level yellow on the dial, numbers would have to drop within that level for 14 consecutive days, Vargo said. That would mean the county would need an incidence rate of 175 or fewer new cases of the virus per 100,000 people and a less than 10% positivity rate.
The county isn’t expecting to be at that point anytime soon, Vargo said.
“If we’re going to control the spread, we really do need folks to cease gathering,” Vargo said. “We need to have folks stick to their households. We need folks, where it’s possible, to stay home.”
Summit County wasn’t the only county to move levels Wednesday. Jefferson, Boulder, Broomfield and Mesa counties are all set to move to level orange, as well, Lawrence said.
While the county isn’t currently in stay-at-home, officials are recommending that everyone limit activity outside of their homes as case numbers and hospitalizations are rising across the state. At a news conference Thursday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said 849 people are hospitalized throughout the state with the virus.
“Here’s the bottom line: We have now surpassed the hospitalization level we had in March and April,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. “We need to do better.”
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