The strictest level on the dial is a stay-at-home order, the policy Colorado enacted statewide in the spring.
At the other end is the “protect our neighbors” phase of restrictions, which only a handful of Colorado counties have qualified for in the past.
That stage is likely several weeks, or some months, away for metro Denver counties.
In the middle of the dial are three levels of what was previously called the safer-at-home phase — the policy that came after the statewide stay-at-home order this spring and allowed many types of businesses to reopen. The safer-at-home policy was updated many times.
In mid-September, the state broke the safer-at-home policy into three levels — called blue, yellow and orange — that counties automatically qualify for.
The state's Nov. 17 addition to the dial on is a new level red, one step below a stay-at-home order. Previously, red meant a stay-at-home, but now that's labeled level purple, which is the new most-restrictive level. The dial now has six levels.
The state added the new level red as many counties approached — or appeared set to enter — stay-at-home orders. John Douglas, head of Tri-County Health Department, said the new level red was a “kind of halfway step” between level orange and a stay-at-home order.
Under the “dial 2.0” changes to Colorado's COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 6, the state drastically eased the incidence-rate (new case rate) limits that allow counties to remain in certain levels of the dial. The “dial 2.0” system put Denver metro counties in level yellow.
After meeting the required metrics for local coronavirus spread over the preceding seven days, Arapahoe became the latest Denver-area county to move to level blue on Colorado's dial of restrictions, according to a county news release. The change took effect the morning of March 14.
The state's COVID-19 dial is the set of restrictions counties must follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affects capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings.
Among the dial's six levels, blue is the second-least restrictive. Purple, the most restrictive level, is a stay-at-home order.
Although the county called the move to blue “very encouraging,” the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners “is urging everyone to continue using anti-COVID best practices, including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing and avoiding large gatherings outside of households,” the county said in the release.
The state moved Broomfield to level blue effective Feb. 22, according to Broomfield's website. Jefferson, Park and Clear Creek counties entered level blue on Feb. 26, according to the state's COVID-19 website. On March 9, Elbert County announced its move to level blue.
Despite Broomfield moving to blue, its one-week rates of new cases later ticked back up to heights that forced it to move back to level yellow. The county moved to yellow March 10 as directed by the state public-health department.
Before new changes that took effect March 7, in level blue, restaurants indoors were allowed up to 50% capacity or 175 people (or up to 225 using the state's social distancing space calculator), whichever is fewer.
That was up from 50% capacity or 50 people (or up to 150 using the calculator), whichever is fewer, in level yellow.
Now, as of the March 7 changes, restaurants and seated indoor events in level blue may expand capacity to 225 people without using the space calculator. Restaurants and seated indoor events in level yellow may expand capacity to 150 people without using the distancing space calculator.
See a full list of which restrictions apply to which levels on the dial by viewing this page, scrolling about halfway down and clicking “level restrictions.” That page also shows which level each Coloardo county is in.
Under the “dial 2.0” changes to Colorado's COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 6, the state public-health department drastically eased the limits on incidence rates — rates of new cases — that allow counties to remain in certain levels of the dial. The arrival of the “dial 2.0” system had moved Denver metro counties down to level yellow from level orange.
As of the Feb. 6 changes, counties qualify for level blue, in part, when they maintain enough days below 100 new cases per 100,000 people.
The level a county qualifies for on the dial generally depends on the county's rate of new cases, its percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, and whether hospitalizations are increasing, stable or declining.
The March 7 update made a change for businesses certified as part of Colorado's 5-Star State Certification Program. The program allows businesses to operate with expanded capacity if they follow stepped-up COVID-19 safety protocols, letting businesses follow restrictions that are one level lower on the dial than they otherwise would be able to without certification.
Read more about the program here.
The March 7 change means 5-Star-certified businesses in level blue may expand capacity limits by 50 people above the level blue capacity caps, according to the news release.
For example, 5-Star-certified restaurants in a blue level county can now have up to 275 people — 225 plus the new 50-person boost — or 50%, whichever is fewer, according to the Joint Information Center.
Businesses with 5-Star certification may not operate in the next lowest level below blue — level green, or "Protect Our Neighbors" — unless the county is formally in that level. Level green is the least-restrictive level on the dial.
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