Denver Missing Blue Level by 24 Hours Means at Least a Week Delay

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during a vaccination event at the National Western complex earlier this month.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during a vaccination event at the National Western complex earlier this month.
When Mayor Michael Hancock scheduled a press conference early on February 25 to discuss COVID-19 later today, speculation started circulating that he might announce the city would be moving to Level Blue on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard. That designation would have allowed restaurants now limited to 50 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever is lower, to bump up to 175 people, space allowing; offices and non-critical manufacturing would also be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.

But no: Hancock and Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald revealed that the city missed qualifying for Level Blue by just 24 hours; in order to drop a level, the state requires seven consecutive days in which counties register fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people, and Denver managed six. Because the case count exceeded 100 on the seventh day, the calendar started over, and Denver will only move to Level Blue after a full seven-day period in which case counts are lower than 100.

After that, the discussion focused on vaccinations and the importance of continuing to follow safety guidelines.

Hancock said he was looking forward to the likely approval by federal gatekeepers of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and promised that the city would do everything possible to expedite its distribution as soon as shipments are received. Meanwhile, Denver officials are moving forward with a three-tier process in regard to inoculations. Tier one involves helping hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and the like to get shots into arms quickly and efficiently. Tier two will focus on creating static vaccination sites, with a concentration on underserved communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus; facilities are already up and running in Montbello and Elyria Swansea, and four more sites are expected to go online as of March 7. Tier three encompasses mobile vaccination teams that will travel directly to individuals who are eligible to receive the vaccine but don't have the ability to get to distribution locales, in an echo of the city's approach to making testing more available.

Both Hancock and McDonald stressed that all decisions being made by the city are driven by equity, and they pledged that this will continue to be the case moving forward.

McDonald acknowledged that Denver's case numbers have ticked up again over the past few days, and said that the best way to move them down again is for members of the community to continue following established safety protocols. While he made it clear that people don't have to double up on facial coverings, he emphasized that they should don what he termed "the right masks" — preferably the surgical type with two layers. He also pushed residents to wear the masks correctly, since having one dangle from an ear won't do any good.

In a subsequent question-and-answer session, McDonald mentioned variance plans submitted by venues such as Red Rocks, and Hancock talked about the importance of allowing fans at sporting events in the very near future. He admitted that he hasn't gotten to see a Denver Nuggets game in a year owing to the combination of Altitude TV's continuing spat with Comcast over broadcast fees and rules against in-person attendance; he argued that getting butts back in seats will be important psychologically as well as fiscally, to get the city's economy moving again.

As for McDonald, he cited the "delicate balance" of gradually lifting restrictions on businesses without triggering an infection spike that would bring progress to a halt again.

Falling short of Level Blue, at least for now, stands as a case in point.
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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