Pitkin County will return to Orange-level restrictions starting Tuesday
Declining incidence rate meets county’s metrics for lighter restrictions
Pitkin County will return to Orange-level COVID-19 restrictions at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, according to a daily epidemiology report and news release distributed Monday afternoon.
Among other changes, the update will allow restaurants to reinstate indoor dining and will lift the Red-level ban on personal gatherings.
“The county’s 14-day incidence rate has dipped under 700 cases per 100,000 persons as of this morning,” the Monday report states. “Red-level restrictions will be lifted starting tomorrow.”
Thanks to a rapidly declining incidence rate, Pitkin County health officials are able to relax restrictions barely two weeks after Red-level limitations went into effect in Pitkin County on Jan. 17; the Board of Health voted to enter the Red level on the state’s COVID-19 dial on Jan. 11.
As of Monday afternoon, the county had an incidence rate of 642 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period, according to the report compiled by the public health department.
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“It’s excellent news that our incidence rate has been brought down, and businesses will be able to operate at greater capacities,” Greg Poschman, Pitkin County Commissioner and Board of Health Vice Chair, said in a news release. “However this is no time to let our guard down. It’s not over yet, and despite this decline, things are expected to get worse before they get better. Let’s keep our community safe by being smart. We need to continue to follow the five commitments to containment and avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close contact settings. This is what we all need to do to keep our community open until vaccines are more broadly available.”
The announcement of Orange-level restrictions comes as good news to local businesses who will benefit from looser restrictions and to Aspen Mayor Torre and Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Madsen, both of whom attempted to get the Board of Health to revert to Orange level restrictions in Pitkin County at a Jan. 28 meeting.
Torre and Madsen lacked votes from other board members to remove Red-level limitations but will see their efforts realized nonetheless come Tuesday. Interim public health director Jordana Sabella had hinted at the possibility of a return to Orange at the meeting last Thursday.
Restaurants can once again offer indoor dining at 25% capacity under the Orange-level guidelines, with last call at 10 p.m. Red-level restrictions set last call to 8 p.m. and banned indoor dining, posing challenges for restaurants with limited outdoor space. Also, the 10-person dining party cap is not limited by household requirements.
The Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance will analyze how the return to Orange-level restrictions will affect a lawsuit the organization filed last month aiming to undo the Board of Health’s Red order, according to the group’s attorney Chris Bryan. A district judge scheduled the hearing for Feb. 19.
Gyms and fitness centers can return to 25% capacity (they were previously limited to 10%); personal services will continue to operate at 25% capacity and retail will continue to operate at 50% capacity with increased curbside pickup and delivery.
Businesses can also apply to participate in the 5-Star State Certification Program in Pitkin County, which grants site-specific variances to the public health order for establishments that implement an extensive list of additional COVID-19 safety measures.
Informal gatherings — banned under the Red-level restrictions — will also be permitted with a maximum of 10 people from two different households.
An incidence rate below 700 and 14 consecutive days of decline was the pathway to Orange-level restrictions. The Board of Health approved the metric at the Jan. 11 meeting — the previous Red level threshold was 350 — allowing the county to loosen restrictions so long as the two other metrics for coronavirus restrictions (positivity rate and hospitalization rate) do not also hit Red level thresholds.
The county would have to have an incidence rate above 700 for 14 consecutive days (or have any two of the three metrics hit Red-level thresholds in one day) to get bumped back into Red.
The Board of Health enacted those metrics on Jan. 11 because any incidence rate above 700 cases per 100,000 people exceeds the public health department’s contact tracing capacity. Ensuring that exposed contacts get tested and quarantine through contact tracing is a key component of the county’s “box it in” strategy to virus mitigation.
The decline in incidence rate occurred much faster than officials predicted but narrowly missed the mark for Orange-level restrictions on Sunday, when the incidence rate was recorded as 732 in the daily epidemiology report. Monday’s report updated the Jan. 31 incidence rate to 777.
Monday’s incidence rate of 642, indicating that one out of every 156 people in Pitkin County had tested positive for COVID-19 over a 14-day period.
That’s just a fraction of the incidence rate on Jan. 17, the day Red-level restrictions went into effect. The Jan. 17 incidence rate was 2759; one out of every 36 people in Pitkin County had tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous two weeks, according to a Jan. 30 epidemiology report.
Pitkin County recorded 8-11 days of decreasing or stable hospitalizations according to the state’s data dashboard and a 14-day positivity rate of 5.3% according to the Monday epidemiology report. Both of those metrics are within the Yellow level on the state’s coronameter.
The lower positivity rate is another good sign: among those who seek testing, fewer are actually testing positive for COVID-19. In tandem, the decline in both metrics — positivity rate and incidence rate — indicates a lower risk of community transmission.
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