State to drop Garfield County COVID-19 restrictions to yellow starting Saturday

Ray K. Erku
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

That’s one more hour until last call.

Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Public Health and Human Services Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan announced on Friday that several counties across the Centennial State can now begin to operate at a less-restrictive level “yellow” on the COVID-19 dial.

This includes Garfield County, and the “Dial 2.0” metric will officially go into effect at 9 a.m. Saturday — just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

“We’re on the right path but we’re not there yet,” Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said. “Let’s keep up the good work, and every week counts. Maybe by summertime we’ll be able to have our county fair and have all kinds of folks together and everybody will be well.”

The news comes as the county’s cumulative two-week COVID-19 incident rate currently sits at 445.4 cases per 100,000 people, a test positivity rate of 7% and eight consecutive days with stable or declining hospitalizations, according to Garfield County Public Health figures.

COVID-19 rates at the state level have also started to see declines.

“We have had a real sustained decline since November,” Ryan said.

Meanwhile, as the state continues to inoculate residents aged 70 or older, local public health specialist Carrie Godes said — within the county — more than 70% of residents 70 and older have already received vaccinations.

Godes gave high praise for the county’s hospital systems for “vaccinatinating as many people as they have.”

“We’re pleasantly surprised,” Godes said of the drops in cases. “Businesses were really following the restrictions that were put into place and people were taking personal precautions. There does seem to be a correlation with the restrictions and the dip, and right now we’re cautiously optimistic with the numbers.”

With the drop, restaurants across the county that serve alcohol won’t have to announce last call until 11 p.m. In addition, every business — this also includes places of worship and workup facilities — can start operating at 50% capacity or at a 150-person limit.

Ryan said on Friday that once the state vaccinates more than 70% of residents 70 or older, businesses currently participating in the 5-Star variance program, an initiative that allows establishments to operate at less restrictive COVID-19 levels if they thoroughly follow stringent protocols, will be able to operate at an even less-restrictive level blue.

Level blue on COVID-19 dial metric extends last call to midnight, while businesses will still have to operate at 50% capacity but can allow in up to 175 people.

With neighboring Pitkin, Eagle and Mesa counties still operating at level orange, however, Martin acknowledged that the county still has some economic hurdles to overcome. However, just this past week the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance dropped a lawsuit challenging the board of health after the county dropped their level red restrictions, which Martin said “will help.”

“The good side of that is, the restaurants dropped their lawsuit so some of those workers will be going back to work. That will be fantastic,” he said. “They do commute from Garfield County — most of them — so that will be nice. But let’s see if we can’t get some places opened up that have been closed. We need to stop losing businesses.”

In Glenwood Springs, Midland Fitness owner Cathy Lee, who’s incurred substantial expenses since the start of COVID-19, said the drop in restrictions is “definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I would like to see (the state) work on consumer confidence and public perception, because I think it’s been really tough for us in that respect, and that’s impacted my business more than anything,” she said. “If we move from one color to another — if that’s going to gain consumer confidence? Sure, I’m in support of that for my business.”

But the county isn’t in the clear just yet. With two confirmed cases of the UK COVID-19 variant confirmed in Garfield County, Godes still advises everyone to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands whenever possible.

“The good news is, they’re expecting the vaccine to cover these additional strains,” she said. “That’s just a good reminder to all of us to continue to be vigilant about those precautionary actions that we’re still taking — especially when we have cases of the variance in our community.”

Starting Monday, the state and county will begin the next phase of inoculations, which includes teachers and residents ages 65 or older.

“That is working and will work,” Polis said Friday. “We just have to keep it up a couple more months.”