State amends restrictions with new COVID dial Mask mandate still in effect

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    On Tuesday evening, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released the state’s COVID Dial 3.0, with the dial going into effect Wednesday.

    The dial, among other things, makes it easier for counties to move into Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors (the least restrictive level) and removes or loosens several restrictions in Level Green and Level Blue: Caution, respectively.

    The updated dial does not lift Colorado’s current statewide mask mandate.

    As of Wednesday morning, Archuleta County remained in Level Blue, and certified 5 Star businesses are permitted to operate under Level Blue protocols, according to information released by San Juan Basin Public Health.

    A press release from the CDPHE notes that the change to the dial is coming as more Coloradans are eligible to be vaccinated and are choosing to do so.

    “State officials expect that Dial 3.0 will remain in effect until mid-April, at which point the state plans to retire the dial and implement a new public health order that gives greater control over capacity restrictions to local public health agencies,” the press release states.

    “Coloradans have made great sacrifices to protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 over the past year,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE. “While this is still a time for caution, these changes to the Dial better reflect where we are in the pandemic today, and the balance we are trying to strike between disease suppression and economic hardship.” 

    The state further notes that Dial 3.0 metrics are further simplified and capacity limits are less restrictive. 

    The main changes in the dial, according to the CDPHE, are: 

    • The metrics for Level Green have changed, making it easier for counties to achieve Protect Our Neighbors status. Now, counties qualify for Protect Our Neighbors if they have up to 35 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people — up from 15 cases. 

    • There is no longer a certification process for Level Green. Counties will be moved into Level Green once they maintain the appropriate metrics for at least one week.

    • Most restrictions in Level Green are now removed. Bars and indoor events must still adhere to a 50 percent capacity limit or a 500-person cap, whichever is fewer.

    • The metrics range for Level Blue is now 36-100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. 

    • Bars can now open under Level Blue. The capacity limit is 25 percent capacity or 75 people, whichever is fewer.

    • Outdoor events in levels Green and Blue no longer have state-level capacity restrictions under the dial. Counties may choose to implement capacity restrictions on outdoor events at the local level.

    • Retail, offices and noncritical manufacturing in Level Blue may now open to 75 percent capacity, up from 50 percent. 

    • There is no longer a state limit on personal gathering sizes. The state will follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance on personal gatherings. The CDC still strongly recommends avoiding larger gatherings and crowds to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    • 5 Star restaurants and gyms in levels Blue and Yellow may operate at 100 percent capacity with 6 feet of distance between parties as a way to provide businesses with increased flexibility, while still limiting indoor mass gatherings. The state expects that maintaining a 6-foot distancing requirement will be a limiting factor for most indoor spaces.  

    • 5 Star-certified seated and unseated indoor events may operate at 50 percent capacity with a 500-person limit in Level Blue. 5 Star seated indoor events in Level Yellow may operate at 50 percent capacity with a 225-person limit and unseated indoor events in Level Yellow may operate at 50 percent capacity with a 175-person limit.

    Mask mandate
    remains in effect

    The updated dial does not change Colorado’s current statewide mask mandate, according to the CDPHE. 

    The agency notes, “Separate from the dial changes, the current mask Executive Order expires April 3, and at that time, the Governor may choose to make modifications. The state released modified mask order components as part of the Dial 3.0 stakeholder engagement process. Feedback received as part of that process will be considered prior to April 3. COVID-19 still presents risks to healthy Coloradans, so everyone should continue to take precautions until the vaccine becomes widely available and used.”

    Officials urge continued following of precautions 

    While public health protocols are beginning to ease, SJBPH strongly urges all residents to continue following proven public health precautions, according to a Wednesday press release. 

    These, the agency notes, include wearing a mask when in public, getting tested if you have symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine when eligible.

    “We’ve come a long way together since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s still too early to let our guard down, especially with variants circulating in the community,” SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon is quoted as saying in the press release. “We have vaccinated just over one third of our community, including many of the most vulnerable and elderly of our friends and neighbors. We strongly urge all residents to get one of the safe and effective vaccines when eligible. It could save your life, or the life of someone in our community.” 

    In a Wednesday interview, Jollon noted that the state is not moving counties between dial levels automatically and indicated that Archuleta County is not currently on a trajectory to reach Level Green.

    “Even with this new dial that eases reaching Green, Archuleta County is not currently headed in that direction due to case counts,” she said, noting that the county’s case rates are in or are headed toward Level Yellow.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH data indicated Archuleta County has had a cumulative total of 735 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March 23, 2020.

    That figure includes 84 confirmed cases this month listed through Wednesday.

    As of Wednesday, Archuleta County’s one-week incidence rate was 178.5 cases per 100,000 population.

    Jollon also noted that mobility data from across the state showed that mountain and destination communities saw a lot of out-of-state travel in the last couple weeks, which can help spread cases and variants of the disease.

    Counties that have had the most out-of-state travel are where public health officials are expecting to see jumps in cases, she pointed out.

    Colorado is also seeing evidence of more growth of the South African variant, which is popping up in additional communities in Colorado. She noted that additional investigation and surveillance is being done to provide more information.

    Also concerning to public health officials is an unexpected rise in hospitalizations, she added.

    Jollon noted that there continues to be potential to overwhelm health care resources in the coming weeks and months.

    “We could still really lose control with this,” she said, urging continued precautions against spread of the virus.

    Testing available

    SJBPH suggests that testing is critical if you have symptoms, believe you’ve been exposed, work in a high-contact job, or if you have been gathering with people outside your household. 

    Additional testing allows public health officials to sequence more samples and identify if COVID-19 variants are more widespread, the agency notes.

    The free COVID-19 testing site at the fairgrounds, located at 344 U.S. 84, continues to be operated in partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado.

    The testing takes place under the all-weather Hughes Pavilion, with the site open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

    You can register for your free test by going to www.covidcheckcolorado.org and selecting “Get My Test.”

    According to a COVIDCheck Colorado flier, “COVIDCheck Colorado uses a highly sensitive and reliable nasal mid-turbinate swab PCR test that is administered by licensed medical professionals. Please arrive wearing a mask.”

    Testing also continues to be available at a number of local health care facilities, including:

    • Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.

    • Pagosa Medical Group (including rapid testing if deemed appropriate by a provider): 372-0456.

    • Pagosa Springs Medical Center: 731-3700. The facility offers testing through its clinic. April 3 will be the last day drive-through testing for asymptomatic individuals will be offered. That testing is currently available Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.