At a June 15 press conference focusing on Colorado's continuing response to COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis announced a public comment period for new draft rules related to a program dubbed Protect Our Neighbors. The proposed guidelines offer a road map for further loosening of restrictions that could allow for the opening of bars and the resumption of concerts and other events under modified conditions in many, if not most, parts of the state by the end of June or early July.
The list of indoor events affected by this draft includes "receptions, events, concerts, indoor markets, non-critical auctions, theaters, trade shows, or other indoor venues not covered in other guidance documents where these guidelines and adherence to physical distance can be maintained." The outdoor events draft references "outdoor receptions, events, fairs, rodeos, non-critical auctions, concerts, or other outdoor venues not covered in other guidances where these guidelines and adherence to physical distance can be maintained." And there's also a draft that provides suggestions for the resumption of residential camps.
After praising the Colorado General Assembly for putting together a balanced budget under extremely difficult circumstances and passing important legislation, such as a new measure aimed at police accountability, Polis offered an update on the latest COVID-19 figures: 29,229 positive cases and 1,373 deaths attributed to COVID-19, out of a total of 1,605 fatalities involving people with the virus. Colorado officials say that the case count has followed a downward trend for twelve of the past fourteen days, with hospitalizations dipping eight days during the previous two weeks.
These successes have allowed the state to tweak a handful of safer-at-home regulations, Polis noted. For instance, lip waxing, shaves and other personal-care procedures in which customers must go without a mask will now be allowed as long as the individual providing the service wears a facial covering.
But the big news was Protect Our Neighbors, which Polis described as "the long-term, sustainable framework" for "the way we have to live until there is a vaccine or a cure" that finally defeats "this nefarious, tricky and deadly foe."
Examples of guidelines offered by Polis: Large assemblies will be allowed to take place with up to 75 attendees in appropriately sized rooms — and as many as 100 people can gather in bigger spaces. Under Protect Our Neighbors, bars will be able to open at 25 percent capacity or up to fifty people (whichever is smaller), if social distancing can be maintained.
Outdoors allows for even greater flexibility, Polis noted. To that end, gatherings of up to 500 people could be allowed by the beginning of next month, perhaps including county fairs — and if officials deem it safe, the current capacity levels of 50 percent at other businesses might be increased over time.
On several occasions, Polis stressed that these rules won't go into place immediately. Public comments at the Colorado Safer at Home website will be collected over the next 48 hours, with the language expected to be finalized by the end of this week. At that time, firmer dates are expected to be put in place, but the program definitely won't be one size fits all. Instead, municipalities will have to apply for permission to enter the Protect Our Neighbors phase, during which their readiness will be judged by several factors cited by Polis: "Can they demonstrate that they have a strong public-health system combined with low virus levels? Can they do testing, tracking, tracing? Does the virus have little or no community spread?"
Some parts of Colorado will be ready to remove its shackles sooner than others under this system, Polis acknowledged, and those that are given the go-ahead will be expected to address future outbreaks on a micro level — by closing specific factories, schools or the like, as opposed to quarantining an entire community or even the state as a whole, if at all possible.
"No one is in Protect Our Neighbor now," Polis said. "But I'm hopeful parts of our state will be able to get there by early July."
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