Virus Outbreak Colorado

Nurse Micki Glassel, left, administers a nasal test for CLVID-19 to state employee Julie Pelegrin as lawmakers try to wrap up the session in the State Capitol Monday, June 15, 2020, in Denver.

At least 10 Colorado counties, including Denver, will face new levels of public health restrictions, including prohibitions on indoor dining, as the coronavirus explodes across the state and threatens to overwhelm the state's health care system.

It's unclear which counties will face the new restrictions announced by Gov. Jared Polis at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. The governor said 10 to 15 counties would be included in the coming days. In a tweet, the state Department of Public Health and Environment wrote that the new risk category for the counties, the creation of which stopped many of them qualifying for stay-at-home orders, would take effect Nov. 20.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock confirmed the state's capital would be included. Jefferson County Public Health and the Tri-County Health Department said before the announcement that they weren't familiar with the details of what Polis was planning to announce.

Under the tighter restrictions, indoor dining will be prohibited, though take-out and outdoor dining will still be available. Gym capacity will be further limited, Polis said. According to a chart provided by the state, the new restrictions will also include:

  • prohibitions on personal gatherings of any size;
  • recommendation that high school students learn in a hybrid or remote model;
  • prohibitions on outdoor dining with anyone other than those in your immediate household;
  • requirement that last call for alcohol sales be instituted at 8 p.m.;
  • further restrictions on the number of people who can work within an office building or environment.

But the governor did not announce a shelter-in-place order for. Instead, he unveiled a new, "severe" risk category for those counties who otherwise would've likely faced a shutdown order. Just a month ago, most of Colorado's counties were in the middle tier of restrictions. Now, more than half are in what would previously be the second-highest level of restrictions, with only a shutdown order left to fallback to. 

Many counties have caseloads -- specifically, the two-week cumulative incident rate -- that would, under the state's own guidelines, require a shelter-in-place order. Instead, the state Department of Public Health and Environment created a new category in the state's "dial."

"We need to reach deep in that reservoir we have and show our resolve," Polis said.

He added that he would be "surprised" if any counties were placed on lockdown in the next week. He said that there was evidence that these new measures work and that the state wouldn't undertake them otherwise.

Despite mitigation efforts in several parts of the state, particularly in the Denver area, cases have infections have continued a sharp rise. It's unclear why officials believe this latest incremental approach will work, when others, including a curfew in Denver, have failed. With the state's hospital system on the brink, there appears to be little runway left to address the situation.

A message sent to Polis's office immediately after the press conference was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Hospitalizations have surpassed their spring peak and continue climbing, to the point that more and more facilities -- nearly one in three -- are reporting that they're facing staff shortages.

One ICU nurse within UCHealth told the Denver Gazette on Tuesday that the situation now is far worse than in the spring and that she is now pushing 90-hour workweeks. UCHealth, one of the largest hospital systems in the state, had 333 COVID patients as of Tuesday; that's a 10% growth within just 24 hours and again sets a new high for the system.

In the past month, Denver has further limited capacity in various public settings; required that people wear masks even when outdoors; and instituted a 10 p.m. closure order for bars and restaurants, among other things. But instead of curtailing the spread, Denver is averaging nearly 600 new cases of the virus per day, far higher than in the spring. 

Polis said one in 58 people in Adams County are sick, as are in one in 64 people in Denver; one in 83 people in Arapahoe County; and one in 110 people statewide.

He repeatedly said the virus now is more dangerous — and the chances of catching it higher — than at any point in the pandemic's nine-month existence.

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