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New COVID Dial Updates Could Soon Ease Bar and Restaurant Restrictions

Bars like Barry's will soon have an easier time reopening.EXPAND
Bars like Barry's will soon have an easier time reopening.
Lauren Antonoff
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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently drafted updates to its COVID dial, a tool that "has enabled the state and counties to balance disease suppression and economic activity in a localized manner," the department said in a March 19 release, with a goal to "preserve the capacity of the statewide hospital system."

The CDPHE took feedback on the proposed changes until March 22, and now will update the dial on Wednesday, March 24, to make it easier for counties to move to Level Green, the least restrictive level, and to also ease restrictions at Level Green and Level Blue. If implemented, the updates could soon make doing business easier for bars and restaurants, as well as for their customers.

One of the biggest changes is that bars that don't serve food will be able to open at 25 percent capacity (or up to 75 people, whichever is fewer) at Level Blue, and at 50 percent capacity (or up to 500 people) at Level Green. That's a significant change from previous rules, which stated that bars could not open at all until all restrictions were lifted; exceptions were made for bars that have their own kitchens and serve food, or those that have arranged for food to be available to customers from food trucks, catering services or neighboring restaurants. But now you could soon be able to enjoy your drink in peace without fear of being busted for not ordering a burger. Restaurants with 5 Star Certification will be able to operate at 60 percent capacity at Level Blue (with some restrictions) instead of 50 percent.

Another major change includes lifting all state-imposed restaurant restrictions at Level Green, giving local jurisdictions authority to impose their own regulations for capacity, table distancing and other rules. And state-level mask mandates would also be lifted at Level Green, so that private entities or local agencies could determine their own mask status. Governor Jared Polis has indicated that Colorado's mask restrictions will be lifted in Level Green counties as soon as April 4 for everyone but students ages 11 to 18. Currently, though, only Crowley and Otero counties are listed at Level Green.

The state is calling these proposed changes Dial 3.0; the original dial was put in place on September 15, 2020, and Dial 2.0 was launched on February 6, 2021, making restaurant seating capacity less strict. The other major change came late last November, when Purple was added as the most severe level. At the time, all counties in the state were moved to Level Red, which closed all restaurant dining rooms for the first time since the end of May.

Movement of the dial to less or more restrictive colors has been and continues to be dependent on specific COVID-related metrics, including cases, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccination percentages, so the move from Yellow (where the City and County of Denver currently stands) to Blue to Green could take time, especially if there's a spike in cases and hospitalizations. But the numbers required to move to less restrictive levels have also been eased as part of the 3.0 rollout. 

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