DENVER (AP) — The state of Colorado will move on from day-to-day oversight of coronavirus safety restrictions and retire the familiar color-coded dial system, meaning local health departments will be responsible for the state's pandemic response, health officials said.
There will now be a patchwork of approaches starting Friday around the state, with some counties collaborating in regional groups to pool resources and share messaging, Colorado Public Radio reported Tuesday.
Most counties with the lowest current COVID-19 case rates, now on level green on the state dial system, are set to drop restrictions and stop marking counties in color-coded safety phases.
Denver will no longer require masks to be worn in outdoor settings beginning Wednesday, and restaurants and gyms will be allowed to open Friday at full capacity, with social distancing requirements. Masks will still be required in public indoor areas and when riding public transportation.
Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday he was confident it was time to let decisions about the pandemic response be made at the local level.
“We fully support regional coordination,” said Polis, a Democrat, who also mentioned transitioning away from the dial system would “empower our communities to take the strongest steps they can to protect people.”
The announcement came as COVID-19 infections remain high, the state positivity rate is above the 5% threshold, hospitalizations are low and more coronavirus variants are being detected.
State health officials have acknowledged Colorado, and much of the country, is entering what experts are calling a fourth wave of infections and are racing to vaccinate more residents. As a result, vaccinations continue to speed up. As of Tuesday, more than 38% of the state population has received at least one dose and more than 20% has been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re at a pivotal point in the pandemic,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She noted that there are about 1,300 providers giving vaccine doses in Colorado, “but the pandemic is certainly not over yet.”
Some statewide restrictions remain in place for now, including in counties with low infection rates. Those restrictions are expected to be reviewed again by Polis in early May.
Polis said he had “full confidence” in local public health agencies to make decisions balancing “economic public health and epidemiological public health.”
Six public health agencies serving the seven counties in the Denver metro area and representing 60% of the state’s population have announced plans to collaborate on their pandemic response through the Metro Public Health Coalition. The agencies include those serving Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Jefferson County and at least two of the three counties served by Tri-County Health.
Tri-County Health has already said it would keep its own version of the state dial, allowing residents to know where their county stands in its response to the virus.
“The dial will be retained,” said Dr. John Douglas, Jr., executive director of Tri-County, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. “We’re expecting to have some sort of dial.”
It is unclear how many other departments are expecting to keep the dial system.