Colorado to take first step in COVID-19 exit strategy, loosening restrictions on restaurants, gyms and offices

Colorado to take first step in COVID-19 exit strategy, loosening restrictions on restaurants, gyms and offices

Starting Saturday, many Colorado counties will see more people allowed in restaurants, bars, gyms, offices and event spaces.

It’s a beginning step in the state’s broader COVID-19 exit strategy, in which Gov. Jared Polis envisions Coloradans returning to nightclubs and sports stadiums as soon as May. He and public health officials hope that by the fall, people will be able to gather indoors with large groups in much the way they did before the pandemic.

Polis was set to announce new details Friday afternoon about the state’s plans to gradually loosen restrictions, and he promised more to come. Every county in every corner of the state will still have to follow Colorado’s color-coded restriction dial, but the new version — “Dial 2.0” — significantly lowers the threshold of COVID-19 cases that must be met in order to restore personal freedoms and full business activities.

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Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan told The Denver Post that many counties will move down on the dial to less restrictive levels — something Polis was also set to announce Friday.

The new dial, Polis told The Post, will be more nimble “to allow for more normalcy” — or less, if case rates move in the wrong direction.

“Every day I wake up asking myself, ‘Can we get rid of the dial?’ I think the answer is still overwhelmingly no,” Polis said, adding that he hopes the state can achieve a 60-70% vaccination rate by May, June or July, and that at that point, “it certainly means that for those who’ve been vaccinated … they can generally live the same way they’ve lived in years past.”

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Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, center, talks with Lila Pedroza, right, and Lucile Vela, left, inside the COVID-19 vaccination clinic waiting room at the Salud Family Health Center on Jan. 30, 2021.

If all goes well, there’ll be another, more lenient update to the dial in the next couple months. But that’s a big “if,” given that fewer than 2% of all Coloradans have received both vaccine doses and there are new virus variants making the rounds.

Colorado is somewhat containing the virus — as of this week it had the eighth-fewest new virus cases among states, adjusted for population — resulting in lower hospitalizations and deaths. But the statewide case count on average is roughly twice as high as when Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order in the spring. That’s partly a reflection on increased testing capacity.

And there’s concern, particularly for and among low-income people and people of color, that Polis is moving too quickly, too soon toward a greater normalcy.

“The question of whether it’s the right time — well, that’s how much risk we want to take,” said Jon Samet, dean at The Colorado School of Public Health and a state advisor on pandemic modeling. “With the pandemic going down in the state, and vaccinations going, it’s not the wrong time. I’ll put it that way.”

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