Roughly a month after raising the limit for personal gatherings in some metro Denver counties to 25 people, Colorado has cut that number back down to 10 for the vast majority of counties in the state, citing “an alarming increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19,” the state public-health department announced in a news release.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Oct. 23 again amended its safer-at-home order to change the limit on personal gatherings in counties at all levels of the safer-at-home restrictions. Only a handful of Colorado counties have qualified for the looser “protect our neighbors” phase of restrictions, which leaves personal gathering limits up to local guidance.
The state’s Oct. 23 action also limits personal gatherings to people from no more than two households, according to the news release.
“Recent case investigation data show that since July, attending social gatherings and community exposures have become more common among new cases,” the department said in the news release. “This suggests people have relaxed their precautions and are interacting more closely with a greater number of households.”
Effectively, the 10-person limit already applied in many counties, such as Jefferson County, one of many that the state lists as under safer at home “level 2.” In mid-September, the state broke the safer-at-home policy into three levels that counties are placed under based on local COVID-19 spread.
Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert are among counties that qualified for the new least-restrictive “level 1” of the new safer-at-home rules as of Sept. 16. In that level, the state allowed personal gatherings of up to 25 people.
But amid a sustained increase in cases in Arapahoe, Tri-County Health Department issued a public health order on Oct. 16 that cut the limit on personal gatherings in that county back to 10 people. That department — the local health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — also issued an order for Adams County that restricted personal indoor gatherings to five people and outdoor personal gatherings to 10.
Denver announced a new public health measure that reduces the limit on gatherings from 10 people down to five, according to an Oct. 16 news release.
Tri-County Health did not issue an order for Douglas County on Oct. 16, saying that its trend is more concerning than the agency would like but that it wasn’t alarming enough to warrant a new public health order there.
The state’s new action moves the limit back down to 10 for many counties across the state, including Douglas and Elbert counties in the greater metro area.
Before the state broke the safer-at-home restrictions into three levels in mid-September, Colorado had maintained the limit of 10 for personal gatherings since spring after it lifted the statewide stay-at-home order.
Limit of 25 people short-lived
Colorado’s move to raise the gatherings limit to 25 people for some counties where the virus’s spread was less dire came amid public officials continuing to caution Coloradans against attending large gatherings.
Gov. Jared Polis and Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, pointed to the rising number of COVID-19 cases among 18- to 25-year-olds, as well as all other age groups in Colorado, emphasizing the importance of avoiding large crowds and not attending parties, according to a Sept. 22 news release, the type that generally follow Polis’ regular news conferences.
Asked why the state public-health department had chosen to raise the personal gatherings cap to 25 people for some counties, a Sept. 25 statement from the Colorado State Joint Information Center, which takes questions for the health department, said the following:
“Guidance for gatherings is based on the county’s disease transmission level, positivity rate and hospitalizations. In counties with low disease transmission, slightly larger gatherings are (OK) if attendees are wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. If possible, gatherings should be outside.”
If virus spread in a county becomes dire enough, it could ultimately be placed under a stay-at-home order like the ones in effect last spring.