COVID-19: Colorado Counties Going to Level Red and More on the Cusp

Governor Jared Polis during a November 17 press conference, with a masked Mayor Michael Hancock in the background.
Governor Jared Polis during a November 17 press conference, with a masked Mayor Michael Hancock in the background. via YouTube
During a November 17 press conference, Governor Jared Polis revealed that between ten and fifteen counties would be moving to Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard because of disturbing spikes in the spread of COVID-19. The total revealed later that day landed on the high side of his estimate: The CDPHE moved fifteen counties to Red (Severe Risk) status while bumping up eight more counties another notch, too.

What wasn't mentioned during the press conference or in the subsequent release is how close the overwhelming majority of the state is to entering Level Red. According to the latest data, 52 of Colorado's 64 counties are currently in Level Red territory when it comes to the two-week cumulative incidence rate of virus cases per 100,000 people, with several more on the cusp of qualifying.

Until recently, Level Red status would have landed counties under stay-at-home orders. But on November 17, Polis and the CDPHE moved the goalposts and painted them a different color, by creating a new category beyond Red, Level Purple, which counties will enter only if they exceed their hospital capacity. As a result, now Level Red counties won't have to institute a lockdown of the sort that Colorado experienced this past spring, but will be required to institute additional restrictions, including a temporary end to on-site dining at restaurants and an 8 p.m. last call.

At the press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock said he expected that Denver would be shifting to Level Red, and he was right. The fifteen counties that will be at Level Red as of Friday, November 20: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, La Plata, Logan, Mesa, Morgan, Routt, Summit and Washington. In addition, six counties will hit Level Orange (High Risk): Costilla, Custer, Lake, Montezuma, Pitkin and San Juan. And two counties, Las Animas and Gunnison, are heading from Level Green (Protect Our Neighbors) to Level Yellow (Concern) on that same date.

The latest CDPHE numbers show that only five counties in Colorado have a two-week cumulative incidence rate of cases under 25, the parameters set up for Level Green, the least restrictive division: Dolores, Hinsdale, Jackson, Mineral and San Juan. Seven others are at Level Orange, just below Level Red, which requires an incidence rate between 175 and 350. But while four of the Level Orange counties are considerably below 300 (Archuleta, Baca, Las Animas and Yuma), the other three are mighty close to the 350-plus incidence rate that would move them to Level Red: Bent at 310.5, Chaffee at 338.1 and Park at 339.6. On November 17, no counties were at either Level Blue (Cautious) or Level Yellow.

Of the 52 counties now at Level Red, many have an incidence rate two or three times higher than the 350 threshold — among them Denver, at 1,103.8. But that pales compared to the two-week cumulative incidence rate in Crowley County, home of the Crowley County Correctional Facility: an astonishing 6,269.6.

Here are the Colorado counties at a Level Red two-week incidence rate, listed in ascending order:
Rio Grande — 364.8
Montrose — 397.5
Grand — 426.3
Delta — 458.7
La Plata — 460.3
Costilla — 464.9
Custer — 434.9
Gilpin — 482.7
Pitkin — 518.1
Clear Creek — 523.6
Moffat — 535.8
Conejos — 539.1
Teller — 552.2
Elbert — 569.6
Rio Blanco — 570.8
Alamosa — 587.1
Gunnison — 588.7
Lake — 594
Broomfield — 614.7
Saguache — 630.1
Eagle — 664.6
Garfield — 664.8
San Miguel — 672.9
Routt — 701.7
Cheyenne — 712.3
Kiowa — 716.8
Larimer — 749.7
Otero — 754.9
Montezuma — 764.5
Douglas — 769.8
Boulder — 789.8
Huerfano — 802.5
Fremont — 822.8
Kit Carson — 869.8
Jefferson — 881.4
Arapahoe — 920.2
El Paso — 1,001.7
Weld — 1,024.8
Washington — 1,075.5
Lincoln — 1,089.2
Denver — 1,103.8
Summit — 1,167.7
Ouray — 1,195.8
Sedgwick — 1,121.6
Phillips — 1,215.5
Morgan — 1,235.2
Mesa — 1,250.9
Adams — 1,300.1
Prowers — 1,410.7
Pueblo — 1,553.7
Logan — 1,729.5
Crowley — 6,269.6
The other metric being used to determine Level Red status under the latest system is the two-week positivity rate. Anything above 15 percent calls for a Red alert, and ten counties surpassed that line on November 17: Adams, Costilla, Grand, Kit Carson, Morgan, Prowers, Pueblo, Saguache, Washington and Weld. In addition, nine counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa and Pueblo) have recorded seven or fewer days of stable or decreasing hospitalizations, which is still designated as Level Red on the CDPHE's site — but this measure has now been replaced by the hospital capacity standard that could push municipalities into Level Purple.

Still, this doesn't mean shutdowns at Level Purple are a guarantee if officials decide to come up with a new color. Level Fuchsia, anyone?
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts