DENVER – Colorado will use an updated COVID-19 dial that allows counties to move between public health restriction levels more swiftly, officials said Friday.
“When disease transmission is low, there’s ample hospital capacity, we can sustain a lot greater degree of ability to engage in closer one-on-one interactions in the final months of the pandemic,” Gov. Jared Polis said.
The state’s amended dial, which dictates countywide restrictions on businesses and gatherings based on new cases and hospitalizations, will go into effect at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“There will likely be one additional update to the dial in the next couple months that will also directly tie into where we are with vaccinations before we abolish the dial,” Polis said.
The new dial will use seven-day metrics – from the previously used 14-day metrics – accounting for virus spread, percent positivity and hospitalizations.
Some of the color-based indicators will have different capacity levels. For example, “yellow,” which previously meant businesses would limit capacity to 100 people, can now have up to 50% or 150 people depending on the indoor space.
As of Friday, most of the counties were at an “orange” level, which means there are between 175 to 350 cases per 100,000 and greater than two new COVID-19 hospital admissions per day. But with these new measures, several counties, including Denver, will be moved to the “yellow” category, which means 100 to 300 cases per 100,000 and hospitalization rates will be assessed by increasing, stable or declining.
Denver has begun accepting applications for the state’s 5 Star Certification Program, which allows for businesses to expand operational capacity after showing enhanced coronavirus safety protocols.
Counties in “yellow” with a 5 Star Business Program in place can operate at a less restrictive “blue” level, which allows for 50% capacity at offices, restaurants and gyms.
However, businesses will be able to do so once 70% of 70-year-olds are vaccinated with at least one dose, which the state expects to happen by the end of February, Polis said.
The percent positivity metrics are tighter on Dial 2.0 for yellow and orange, meaning it will be harder for counties to move from red to orange or orange to yellow without sufficient testing, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The state health department will also develop additional metrics for counties with populations below 30,000 “due to variability in rates.”