Summit County health officials prepare to enter next phase of coronavirus response with many unknowns |

Summit County health officials prepare to enter next phase of coronavirus response with many unknowns

Gov. Jared Polis announced new guidelines that would allow for theaters and venues to reopen. However, Dillon officials have announced there are no plans to host concerts at the amphitheater this summer.
Nicole Miller /

FRISCO — Summit County officials are grappling with multiple changes to the state’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic that could increase gathering sizes and further reopen businesses.

In a news conference Monday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis made two big announcements regarding the state’s plans to move forward. The first includes new guidelines for the state’s safer-at-home public health order and the second announces the next phase of regulations.

The proposed health order guidelines would open bars at 25% capacity, allow residential summer camps to open with 10 children indoors and 25 outdoors, and allow indoor events to occur with restrictions.

The Summit County Public Health Department plans to follow these guidelines, Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said at Tuesday’s joint Board of Health and Board of County Commissioners meeting. As it stands, the county’s public health order defers to state guidelines on all of the new changes, which means there won’t be any new amendments to the local order until July 1 when it expires.

The changes in indoor gatherings will allow for theaters, wedding receptions, indoor markets, auctions and trade shows to operate. The gathering limitations depend on the size of a venue. For most venues, the limit is up to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Larger venues could have more people, however, with the highest limit being 100 people, according to the guidelines

All businesses, including those that open under the new guidelines, are still required by the county to fill out the physical distancing protocol form and post it near the entrance of the building.

The new safer-at-home guidelines are not set in stone, however. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is asking residents to give feedback on residential camps, indoor events and outdoor events by 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 17. The new public health order will be released at the end of the week, Polis said. 

Hendershott is working on submitting feedback to the state on behalf of Summit County, asking for clarity on various aspects of the new guidelines.

“I’ve already given comment on the outdoor events, which talk about venue,” he said. “Is a park considered a venue? Is a trailhead where a race is going to be staged considered a venue? I think that’s good to clarify.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis dons a mask April 3 to encourage state residents to wear them while in public. Polis’ announcement Monday that the state will move into the protect-our-neighbors phase of the coronavirus response has left public health officials with little information about what that will look like.
David Zalubowski / AP photo

Protect our neighbors

The governor also announced the state’s intention to move into the final phase of the novel coronavirus response called “protect our neighbors.” The phase would allow for any activity to occur at 50% capacity up to 500 people as long as there is a 6-foot distance between groups.

As of Tuesday, the state has released only a draft framework of what the protect-our-neighbors phase would look like. The complete framework will go into effect at the end of June or in early July.

The new phase will look different than the previous ones, however. Under the stay-at-home and safer-at-home phases, local governments were required to follow the regulations set out by the state at a bare minimum.

The protect-our-neighbors order would apply only to the local governments that can prove success in combating the virus. If Summit County wants to move into the protect-our-neighbors phase, it would have to prove a commitment to community testing, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, targeted health orders, case investigation and outbreak response, according to the draft framework. 

“Strong local public health and health care systems are the key to successfully reopening our economy,” Polis said about the requirements to move into the new phase.

The county also will have to demonstrate evidence of low disease transmission levels; capacity for testing, case investigation and outbreak response; and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s ability to meet the needs of all patients and handle potential surges.

The specific thresholds the state will use to decide if a county is able to move into this phase haven’t been determined. A team of state leaders, academic experts, local public health officials and epidemiologists are developing the thresholds by looking at transmission, treatment, testing and tracing efforts throughout the state, according to the draft framework.

Without those specific thresholds, it’s difficult for Summit County public health officials to gauge where the county stands in qualifying to move forward. 

“I haven’t seen a lot of detail on (thresholds), so we’ll stay tuned,” Hendershott said at the meeting. 

Initially, if the state allows the county to move into the protect-our-neighbors phase, all activities will be allowed at 50% capacity or up to 500 people. However, there is potential to move upward in capacity to 60% and 75% as time goes on.

To move up in capacity, the county would have to hold transmission levels steady and prove it’s capable of meeting performance metrics for treatment, testing, case investigation, contact tracing and outbreak response.

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