Summit County to move to level red on COVID-19 dial as soon as Friday

Under new level, restaurants will be closed to in-person dining

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released an updated COVID-19 status dial Tuesday, Nov. 17. The new dial adds a purple level, which would indicate stay-at-home orders.
Graphic from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

KEYSTONE — Summit County could be moving into the state’s new level red phase of response to the novel coronavirus as soon as Friday, Nov. 20.

Effective Friday, the state will be adding two new levels to its COVID-19 dial: a restructured level red, which is now labeled “severe risk,” and the new level purple, which is labeled “stay at home,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference Tuesday.

While no counties are at the point of moving into level purple, which would be a shutdown similar to what was seen in March, 15 counties will be moving into the new level red, according to a news release from the Colorado State Joint Information Center. The release said Summit County will be among those counties moving into the new phase Friday.

However, at a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday evening, County Manager Scott Vargo said the county will be asking if it could push the move to Sunday in order to give more time for businesses to prepare.

Currently, the county is in level orange, which is labeled “high risk.” In that level, all noncritical businesses are limited to 25% capacity or up to 50 people, whichever is fewer. The move to level red will mean further restrictions on nearly all businesses and a prohibition on all gatherings among people in different household groups.

The county will be spending the next few days going over the local public health order and preparing for the move into the new level.

How we got here

Level red counties are those that reflect a greater than 15% positivity rate, more than 350 new cases per 100,000 people or greater than two new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Summit County was reporting 1,117 new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period, a number that falls well within the level red standards, according to the dial dashboard.

However, the county has been able to decrease its positivity rate — the percentage of tests that return positive — to 13.9%, which is within the level orange phase, according to the dashboard.

“This is really kind of a last-resort effort for us to be able to get things back in line before having to go to the level purple,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said at the meeting.

The reduction in positivity rate comes from a increase in testing efforts across the county. At Tuesday’s meeting, Wineland said the state-led drive-thru testing site in Silverthorne will remain open through Dec. 30. That site is in addition to two testing sites in Frisco, run by Vail Health and Centura Health. All of the testing in the county is available for free.

“We’re ensuring we have enough testing locally to capture everybody who does have the virus,” Wineland said. “We were able to bring in lots of extra capabilities around testing, and we’re seeing that paying off now as our positivity rate is going down. That’s really good news.”

Restrictions in level red

The county’s move to level red means most businesses are going to be under tighter restrictions. According to the state’s dial webpage, restaurants will be limited to serving food outdoors or through takeout and delivery, offices will be limited to 10% capacity, and gyms and fitness centers will be limited to 10% capacity or up to 10 people per room, whichever is fewer.

Restaurants also will be subject to an 8 p.m. last call.

Under level red, noncritical and critical retail stores must operate at 50% capacity with increased curbside pickup and delivery as well as designated hours for seniors and other high-risk groups.

The health board also is considering additional restrictions on short-term lodging facilities and ski areas. Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said the county is looking at a capacity restriction on ski areas. However, she was not specific about what that capacity would be.

“It doesn’t make sense to impose on all of our small businesses, reduce capacity, reduce services and then have 70,000 people in our ski areas,” Stiegelmeier said. “So we’re really looking at what might be appropriate there or reducing that capacity.”

The county is also considering placing a one-household limit on short-term rentals to go along with the one-household restriction on gatherings imposed by level red.

All official changes will be included in an amended public health order, which Wineland will sign later this week.

The county will be discussing the changes in the order at a virtual town hall at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19. A link to the town hall is available on the Summit Chamber of Commerce Facebook page under the events tab.

How schools will be affected

Level red also has new suggestions for education. In that level, the state suggests that school districts have pre-K through fifth grade students learning in-person with high school and middle school students using a hybrid, or in-person and online, learning model. Summit School District has been following this model since it started school in August.

On Monday, Nov. 16, Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. sent a letter to district families providing an update to the district’s criteria for switching learning models. As of now, the district has no intention of moving to all online learning, Smith wrote.

“At this time, Summit School District has not made a decision to move to full online learning,” Smith wrote. “However, the current COVID-19 data trends in our community and schools are concerning, and we continue to analyze data and metrics to determine how best to move forward to ensure safety and continued learning for our scholars and staff.”

In the letter, Smith wrote that the district would be looking to four metrics when making a decision to move to online learning: the county’s dial metrics, in-school transmission, shifts in learning models across schools and quarantines.

If the county’s positivity rate and incidence rate remain in the level red phase for a “prolonged amount of time,” Smith said the district would consider going online.

Evidence of viral spread or transmission within schools that was caused by school-related interactions also would move the district online as well as multiple schools having to switch to remote or online learning due to cases of the virus.

Finally, the district would go online if at least 50% of students in one building are quarantined, Smith wrote.

The district will be discussing the changes at a virtual town hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. The link for the meeting can be found at

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