The promised update of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial system, now being referred to as Dial 2.0, will officially take effect at 9 a.m. Saturday, February 6, as Governor Jared Polis and CDPHE executive director Jill Hunsaker Ryan confirmed during a February 5 press conference about the state's ongoing efforts to battle COVID-19.
The impact of this development will be felt quickly. Polis confirmed that a Denver restaurant now operating at 25 percent capacity will be able to bump up to 50 percent capacity in time for lunch tomorrow. And Ryan added that eateries in Level Yellow areas can serve as many as 150 patrons if they're large enough to qualify under state standards — an increase from the 100-person Yellow maximum under the original dial (not to mention the 50-person Orange maximum).
Polis led his talk by celebrating the fact that Colorado has surpassed the half-million-dose mark for individual vaccinations thus far, citing 514,408 first doses and 179,360 second doses. Additionally, more than a quarter-million residents over age seventy have been inoculated to date, representing 64 percent of the demographic. According to Polis, the state is on track to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the seventy-and-up group by February's end, and he also expressed confidence that folks between 65 and 69 and teachers, school staff and child-care professionals, who can begin receiving shots on Monday, February 8, should finish up around the same time.
Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to providing an overview of Dial 2.0. She noted that the greatest change is a shift in the threshold for disease incidence levels that will allow most counties to operate at Level Yellow. As for counties currently at Level Yellow, they can transition to the even less restrictive Level Blue after 70 percent of seventy-year-olds statewide have been vaccinated.
Among the other major shifts in the dial cited by Ryan: Counties will be moved up or down the dial based on a seven-day metric for disease incidence rather than the previous fourteen-day span. The idea is that state public-health officials can react more quickly to deal with data swings because of this tweak. Likewise, counties will no longer be required to submit mitigation plans prior to being moved in the dial, even though Ryan recommended that they continue to have one at the ready. This way, restrictions can be imposed more rapidly, and Ryan said evidence suggests that capacity cutbacks and the like do more to reduce virus rates than do new protocols.
Moreover, Ryan stressed that incidence rates alone will be enough to justify moves up or down the dial in most cases; counties with a population under 30,000 could be exceptions. But officials will be looking very closely at testing capacity in specific areas, with an eye toward counties remaining under a threshold of 5 percent.
The state is making this move, Ryan maintained, because case counts have dropped significantly since November 2020, and hospitalizations, which peaked at 1,847 during a single day in December, are at 502 as of February 5.
After the presentation, several questions dealt with grumbling from restaurateurs and other business owners who have jumped through hoops aplenty to qualify for the state's 5-Star program only to see a dial change give the same benefits to enterprises that haven't gone through the procedure. Polis pushed back on this interpretation, arguing that 5-Star businesses will be the first to enjoy loosened restrictions and the last required to tighten up again if a spike causes a move up the dial. He added that such operations will inspire increased consumer confidence, since they've demonstrated a commitment to the health and safety of employees and customers that goes above and beyond the average.
Another question concerned a dispute between the state and El Paso County over thousands of vaccine doses that have allegedly been sitting on shelves, unused. Polis promised that the vaccine would still be available in the county, albeit likely by way of different partners that prove better able to distribute it within the three-day period Colorado has mandated.
Ryan conceded that inequities in vaccine availability for people of color, in particular, continue to exist. She outlined efforts to work with local and neighborhood organizations, religious institutions and others in the hope of narrowing the gap, but emphasized that if these tactics fail, "we'll try something different."
Another query involved whether summer festivals and crowds at Colorado Rockies games will be possible this summer. After briefly dinging the Rockies for essentially paying the St. Louis Cardinals to take their biggest star, Nolan Arenado, Polis predicted that some fans would be on hand for opening day, with more likely able to attend later in the season. But beyond that, he could offer no guess about when life will get back to normal, and urged continued mask-wearing (he just extended his mask mandate another month), physical distancing and avoiding social get-togethers with people from different households in the short term.
"We want to make sure that in the final months of the pandemic, we don't have the worst months of the pandemic," he said.
Click to see a presentation about the changes in Dial 2.0 from the governor's office.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.