'Protect our neighbors': Colorado unveils 3rd phase of social distancing

Bars, theaters, concerts, weddings, other large events to get green light

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/17/20

Life in Colorado will take a big leap toward normalcy when new state rules go into effect to allow bars, theaters, and indoor and outdoor concerts to open again as early as this week. Large event …

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'Protect our neighbors': Colorado unveils 3rd phase of social distancing

Bars, theaters, concerts, weddings, other large events to get green light

Posted

Life in Colorado took a big leap toward normalcy with new state rules to allow bars, theaters, and indoor and outdoor concerts to open again as of mid-June.

Large event venues are poised to open up, too — and even fairs and rodeos will return, along with receptions, which include wedding events, funerals, conferences and similar gatherings. Indoor malls, too, can now open statewide.

Those are all updates to the state's safer-at-home social distancing order, in effect as of June 18.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled the framework for Colorado's third social distancing phase — the stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders were the first two — called the “protect our neighbors” phase. That's where parts of the state with low enough COVID-19 spread can permit “all activities” at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity with up to 500 people in one setting, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

That new phase could go into effect in its first counties by the end of June or early July, Polis said at a June 15 news conference.

Colorado announced these changes even as Polis acknowledged that the state's falling rate of new COVID-19 cases doesn't mean Coloradans are out of the woods as far as the pandemic is concerned.

“We can't let the good news so far give us any kind of false sense of security. We know things are going to get more challenging,” Polis said, pointing to a likely “second wave” of the virus' spread in the fall, according to the state's modeling.

On top of that, flu season's overlap with the pandemic is expected to impact hospital bed capacity, the governor added.

Still, the governor moved ahead with the cautiously optimistic tone and reliance on public buy-in that have been the hallmark of his response to the pandemic, applauding Coloradans for the “great job” they've done bringing down the state's spread of COVID-19.

“This is not a function of what the government is saying or doing. It's not a function of what your local county health (agency) is doing,” Polis said. “What it is a function of is your responsible decisions you make every day, and by and large, the proof is in the pudding: Coloradans have been following the sound guidance of health officials in large numbers, wearing masks in public, staying 6 feet from others — and that is why we're here with good news instead of bad news.”

He added that continued success depends on “our behavior as individuals to be responsible, save lives, protect our economy, protect our freedoms.”

As with a previous round of updates to the safer-at-home order, Coloradans were able to give feedback online before they went into effect. The public can view the specific guidance here.

Here’s a look at the big changes.

Safer-at-home update on indoors

Colorado will see indoor events, receptions, theaters, concerts, malls, markets, “noncritical” auctions and trade shows open again, according to the new state public-health department guidelines.

That includes theaters for performances and movies, according to the state public-health department.

Along with social distancing guidelines such as requesting attendees to wear face coverings, crowd sizes are limited based on venue size.

Indoor venues can allow up to 100 people, excluding staff, per room with a minimum of 6 feet between individuals or non-household contacts. A venue’s crowd size can be determined with the state’s “Social Distancing Space Calculator."

Organizers should implement symptom-monitoring — such as temperature monitoring and symptom-screening questions — where possible, as well as consider screening attendees for symptoms or exposures, the state's guidance says.

Update for outdoors

Outdoor events, receptions, fairs, rodeos, concerts and "noncritical" auctions can hold capacity according to a similar formula.

Outdoor venues may allow up to 175 people based on the state’s Social Distancing Space Calculator — excluding staff — per designated activity with a minimum of 6 feet between individuals or non-household contacts.

Venues with multiple activities or events that are separated, such as a fair with activities in separate buildings or arenas, can hold the maximum capacity in each setting. Those venues would have to implement precautions — such as one-way traffic — as attendees move from one activity to the next.

Overnight youth camps also can open with 6-foot distancing and a maximum group size of 25 campers outdoors or 10 campers indoors.

The outdoor guidance does not apply to activities already covered under guidelines for restaurants, houses of worship, or personal or outdoor recreation.

Polis nodded to the risk of attending these events, though, saying: “To be clear, there is risk in any activity” and that some Coloradans will choose not to attend even though restrictions are lifted.

Bars open, grooming expands

Bars can open at 25% of the posted occupancy limit or 50 patrons, whichever is less. They can host more outdoors on patios, Polis added. That change took effect June 18 and also includes many other drinking establishments, such as breweries, distillery pubs and clubs.

Nightclubs with dance floors can open if they can comply with social distancing — but dancing may not be allowable because it may be difficult to maintain 6 feet from others, according to the state public-health department.

Some bars already were able to open along with restaurants as of May 27 — whether they could depended on whether the bar functioned as a restaurant with a full-service kitchen or provided food from a licensed retail food establishment, such as a neighboring restaurant or food truck, according to a state fact sheet.

“Extra large” restaurants can expand to up to 100 patrons indoors based on the state’s Social Distancing Space Calculator, the new rules say.

Personal services — such as salons — can now include facials, beard-trimming, lip-waxing and so on, according to Polis' presentation.

'Protect our neighbors'

The third phase of social distancing, which the state initially mentioned earlier this spring, finally took shape as Polis announced that some parts of the state could allow “all activities to occur” at 50% capacity, with up to 500 people in one setting and at least 6 feet between non-household members.

Over time, that 50% threshold could even be increased if COVID-19's spread doesn't worsen in a region, Polis said.

“If the key message in March and April was we need to flatten the curve, now we have a new message: We need to exercise personal responsibility — wear masks in public, stay 6 feet apart from others, and support our local public health efforts to contain this epidemic so that we can continue to enjoy our freedoms,” Polis said.

The performance of local public health agencies will be a determining factor, the governor said.

Local public health agencies will need to effectively issue restrictions for sites or areas with COVID-19 outbreaks — which could be a factory, a school or a neighborhood — so it doesn't spur a countywide or statewide problem, Polis said.

He added that health agencies also need to be capable of implementing isolation, quarantine and enforcement of public health orders in general, along with contact tracing — where public health workers notify people that they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

To enter the “protect our neighbors” phase, according to a draft framework, communities must meet scientifically established thresholds of:

• Low disease-transmission levels.

• Local public health agency capacity for testing, contact tracing and outbreak response.

• Hospital ability to meet needs of all patients and handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care.

A team of scientists that involves state leaders, academics, local public health directors and epidemiologists is developing measures to help understand how to move between the three social distancing phases, according to the draft framework. One of public health officials' goals is to prevent having to return to a stay-at-home order — a possibility state officials have repeatedly acknowledged.

The “protect our neighbors” phase could be implemented in some counties by around early July, Polis said.

Coloradans were able to review the draft framework for “protect our neighbors” and provide feedback here by June 18. The public can still view the draft framework at that link.

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