As novel coronavirus cases increase across Colorado, the state health department has warned 15 counties that they will have to reverse parts of their reopening if they are unable to curtail the spread of the disease.
The counties at risk of losing their variances include Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Adams, El Paso, Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
The agency sent notices to the counties last week, and eight of them have decided to drop their variances and operate under the statewide “Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors” phase, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive of the state health department.
State officials have not identified those eight counties.
“What is at stake is our economic stability,” Ryan said during a news conference. “If we can control the spread of disease on a county level, it reduces the need for statewide disruption.”
The warnings come as COVID-19 cases have increased in Colorado for five consecutive weeks and have reached levels not seen since April. Hospitalizations for the coronavirus, an indicator of the severity of the pandemic, also have risen recently.
The variances allow local governments to loosen restrictions on events and businesses after they show progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19. For example, Denver’s three variances allow for the opening of the Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, Cherry Creek Mall, gyms and indoor pools.
The state health department said it sends the letters when a county with a variance experiences a disease rate of more than 50 people per 100,000 for two consecutive weeks. The letter requests counties create a plan to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Mitigation plans can include strategies such as policies that promote greater social distancing, increased testing and contact tracing, and education campaigns that promote mask wearing and other protective behaviors,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Environment in an email.
Jefferson County is close to reaching its case limits, and is working to stay in compliance so that it can keep its variance, county spokeswoman Ashley Sever said in an email.
As part of its plan to do that, Jefferson County Public Health has ordered venues to receive approval from the agency before holding events with more than one activity, and with more than 100people inside or 175 people outside.
The following counties have been notified about the need to slow COVID-19 transmission:
- El Paso