The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new mask guidance, which allows people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to ditch facial coverings and forgo six-foot physical distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings, has thrown Colorado regulations into a state of chaos — and that appears to be true for the metro area, too.
Although the City and County of Denver will reportedly move to Level Clear on Sunday, May 16, along with neighboring counties Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson, no details about the switch have officially been released. But city spokesperson Clarissa Boggs-Blake offers this update: "We are still finalizing the specifics of the public health order and will be releasing details later today. Denver anticipates aligning with regional and state partners upon the expiration of our current public health order this weekend. Denver encourages all eligible residents to get vaccinated and thanks our community for the great response."
In the meantime, we have at least some idea about what's to come thanks to Jefferson County Public Health, which released its updated rules just over an hour before the CDC's big move.
On May 16, according to the JCPH, Jeffco "will enter a ninety-day observation period during which businesses will be able to operate at 100 percent capacity with no additional restrictions, except for indoor mask requirements or other requirements implemented by the State of Colorado or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment" — both of which appear to be in flux.
Should COVID-19 data go to hell, however, Jeffco has options by way of what the JCPH refers to as a "snapback provision." Over that ninety-day period, which ends August 15, the department "will closely monitor new hospitalizations of individuals with COVID-19, a health metric indicative of severity of COVID-19 infections. If needed, JCPH will reapply capacity limits and mitigation requirements based on hospitalization rates. For example, if the county surpasses 2.0 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents over a fourteen-day period, public health officials will implement restrictions as described in the public health order."
The Jeffco release states that despite the Level Clear designation, "the statewide indoor mask requirements remain in effect. Community members must wear masks in indoor public settings where ten or more unvaccinated individuals or individuals of unknown vaccination status are present, unless a business has verified that at least 80 percent of people in the space are fully vaccinated and have shown proof of vaccination."
These restrictions may vanish before the day is out — and it's also uncertain whether mask rules will continue to apply at grocery stores, retail stores, gyms and what JCPH calls "most indoor public settings where large numbers of people gather and enter and exit frequently." But as advertised, the mandate could remain "in pre-K-12 schools, public areas of county or municipal government facilities, congregate care facilities, prisons, jails, medical and healthcare settings, during travel (per CDC requirements) and personal service settings regardless of vaccination status."
As in Jefferson County, statistics related to the novel coronavirus as tracked on the Denver COVID-19 data summary page are improving. Circa today, May 14, Denver cases are down 31.4 percent over the previous week (with the last three days excluded), hospitalizations dipped 4 percent during the past seven days, and deaths have plummeted by 42.9 percent from two weeks ago. But the percentage of people fully vaccinated sits at 52.9 percent of residents age sixteen and older. Even if children younger than twelve are excluded, that means nearly half of those who live in Denver still need to get one or more shots.
Denver spokesperson Boggs-Blake chooses to focus on a different metric. In her words, "With 65 percent of our eligible residents vaccinated with at least a first dose, continued progress remains critical to keep case rates low and minimize public health restrictions."
This post has been updated to include comments from Denver spokesperson Clarissa Boggs-Blake.