Larimer County is moving to a stricter 'Safer at Home Level 2' for COVID: Here's what it means
Editor's note: We're making this story free to read due to public safety concerns. But we rely on the support of subscribers to be able to do this work. Please support us by purchasing a digital subscription today.
After reporting 171 new COVID-19 cases over 24 hours and hospitalizations at levels not seen since April, Larimer County will move to tighter rules to promote social distancing.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered Larimer County to move from Level 1 of "Safer at Home" to Level 2.
This change will reduce capacity allowances. It takes effect at 5 p.m. Friday. The status change won't impact current restrictions on personal indoor gatherings, which are currently limited to no more than 10 people from no more than 2 households. However, the state is currently encouraging people to interact only with other members of their households.
The state health department said the change from Level 1 to Level 2 was made because of rising COVID-19 case counts and positivity rates within Larimer County in the past several weeks.
The COVID-19 14-day incidence rate was 309 per 100,000 people on Thursday, according to the county health department. The 14-day positivity rate is 6.9%.
Both numbers have increased significantly since early September, health department officials stated in a news release.
The county's dashboard reported 171 new cases in the previous 24 hours and 50 hospitalizations, which is four fewer than the peak on April 22.
What Safer at Home Level 2 means
The county says the main effects of the more restrictive orders are:
- The maximum number of attendees at indoor worship services is reduced from 175 to 50 people. (Note: This is for unseated functions. For seated functions and extra large spaces, the limit is 100.)
- The maximum number of attendees at gyms is reduced from 75 to 50 people.
- The maximum number of attendees at restaurants decreases from 175 to 50 (or up to 100 if the space has adequate social distancing).
- The maximum number of participants for group sports is reduced from 50 to 25 per activity.
- The maximum number of attendees for indoor events is reduced from 175 to 100, and stays at 175 for outdoor events.
Last call will remain at 11 p.m., the health department said.
Offices are still restricted to 50% capacity, the same as for Level 1. The restriction for personal gatherings isn't changing because the county already moved to the Level 2 requirement in mid-October, citing an increase in cases that were traced back to personal gatherings.
For preschool through 12th grade schools and higher education, the Level 2 requirements are similar to the Level 1 requirements. The main change is that in-person schooling is no longer suggested. The state guideline reads "in-person, hybrid, or remote as appropriate."
Some rules vary by industry, and the Larimer County health department will be working with businesses to work through the new capacity limitations.
"Although Larimer County never wants to impose additional measures that restrict the movements and economic activity of the county’s residents, visitors, and businesses, the scientific data supporting the CDPHE’s order dictate that stricter protocols be enacted and enforced under these conditions," the news release stated. "The majority of Larimer County businesses have implemented and are enforcing strict safety protocols as required. Local school districts are doing an excellent job minimizing risk for students and staff."
What comes after Safer at Home Level 2?
The next phase of the continuum is Safer at Home Level 3, which involves stricter regulations on gatherings of all kinds and a recommended switch to remote or hybrid schooling.
Beyond that level is a stay-at-home order like we experienced in March and April.
Larimer County won't have to move to the next phase of restrictions if risk metrics stabilize or improve.
But the county has already reached the infection rate threshold for Safer at Home Level 3, which is 175 to 350 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period. Our current 14-day average is 309 cases per 100,000 people. The percent positivity threshold for Safer at Home Level 3 is 10-15%. Larimer County was at 6.9% as of Thursday afternoon.
What do Larimer County commissioners think?
In a county news release, commissioner Steve Johnson urged diligence with public health recommendations.
“We need to wear our masks, maintain social distance, and hold off on in-home private get togethers right now," Johnson said in the county's news release. "The next few weeks will be critical for us as a community. We need to do everything we can to keep our workers employed and our kids attending in person learning.”
Commissioner John Kefalas told the Coloradoan he sees the new status as a "call to action."
"We all need to really smell the coffee and set aside the emotional aspects of this, and unify in terms of how we're going to abide by requests that I don't think are too onerous — wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing and cleaning our hands a lot ... and avoiding indoor personal gatherings," he said. "In the end, I think we have to do this if we're going to move in the opposite direction. We really don't want to go to the orange (Level 3) level."
In an email to the Coloradoan, Johnson said he feels the change is warranted because of the recent spike in hospitalizations.
"These changes address the kinds of transmission we're seeing, which are groups within homes, and are not much of a change to our business restrictions where we are not seeing much of a problem," Johnson wrote. "So I think they are warranted, but I would at this point resist going any (higher) than level two."
Commissioner Tom Donnelly, reached by phone, said he wanted to thoroughly review the new regulations before commenting.
How does this compare to the rest of Colorado?
Larimer County was the most populous county in Colorado that was still at Level 1 status. About half of Colorado's counties, and the majority of the state's population, are currently in Safer at Home Level 2 status. Three counties — Denver, Adams (Brighton and Denver suburbs) and Logan (Sterling area) — are at Level 3 status.
State health officials: Interact only with your household members
Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations are higher than they've ever been during the duration of the pandemic, and the state is urging residents to only interact with members of their own household to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The number of individuals being hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 across the state was at 894 as of Thursday, which surpassed the previous record high number of hospitalizations of 888 that was recorded on April 14. The lowest that number has been since the previous peak on April 14 was 126 hospitalizations on June 27.
And in the past day there were 3,369 new COVID-19 cases across the state, an all-time daily high for cases.
"I hope and trust that's a wake-up call for Coloradans," Gov. Jared Polis said during a press briefing Thursday. "It's time to refocus on what we know we need to do to reduce this pandemic toll here in Colorado."
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state of Colorado epidemiologist, said pressure is mounting on Colorado's health care system, and the state believes there is more COVID-19 virus circulating in Colorado right now than there has been since the beginning of the pandemic.
Herlihy also said that as of right now there are no signs of slowing or plateau in the data and that it's likely the trend will continue at least into the near future.
Herlihy said many hospitalizations are occurring in the 40- to 60-year-old age group, and that death counts are anticipated to increase in the coming days.
She also said that Colorado right now is projected to exceed ICU capacity in late December, and if social distancing levels are decreased further, the state will reach that threshold capacity even sooner.
"Our health care system will be at risk if we stay on our current path of disease transmission," Herlihy said.
Polis said the state is calling on residents to do three things, chief among them: Interact just with members of your own household. The other two actions are keeping distance from others and wearing a mask.
Polis said he remains highly optimistic that there will be a coronavirus vaccine available soon but that Coloradans need to buckle down and prevent the virus from spreading as much as possible.
"We need to renew our commitment and resolve now to get through one of the darkest periods in the history of our state and prevent unnecessary loss of life," Polis said. "This is an important message we're trying to get out to as many people as possible.
"Buckle down and only associate with your households for the next month. This has been a tough year, 2020, and I know everyone, myself included, is extremely tired of this virus, but the virus isn't tired of us and we all have a really important role to play in protecting our communities ... There will be a day when things return to normal. I think the vision and light at the end of the tunnel are there, but we're not there yet. We will get there together."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify limits on indoor worship services. New state guidelines allow greater capacity for seated functions.
Ryan Severance of the Pueblo Chieftain contributed to this report.
Rebecca Powell is a content strategist at the Coloradoan, working to connect our community with the answers they seek. Contact her at RebeccaPowell@coloradoan.com. We can't do the important work of keeping our community informed without you. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.