Colorado closes bars, nightclubs after young crowds spread virus

State outlines more-relaxed social distancing phase for some counties


Just 12 days after Colorado allowed bars and nightclubs to open in-person service, a concerning uptick in COVID-19 cases fueled by young Coloradans forced state officials to pump the brakes and close drinking establishments again.

“Our uptick, like the major spikes in other states, is largely among the younger demographic,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a June 30 news conference. “I think it is partially attributable the bars and nightclubs and also potentially to the large public gatherings and the protest movements that we've seen outside. Those are two factors we've had in our state.”

While Colorado was “one of the first states to successfully transition” out of the stay-at-home phase of coronavirus restrictions into a “safer at home” phase with more economic activity — and, so far, has been spared the type of severe COVID-19 increases seen in nearby states — Colorado's rate of new cases has risen for the last two weeks, Polis said.

“We've lost over 1,500 people to this. This virus would take another 1,500 from us in a heartbeat if we let up, or more,” Polis said, also noting direr spread of the virus could mean an economic setback.

The governors of Texas and Arizona have pointed to bars and nightclubs as a major source of their outbreaks, Polis said. Arizona moved to close bars, nightclubs, movie theaters and gyms on June 29, and Polis announced Colorado is closing its bars and nightclubs too.

Polis signaled Colorado could consider returning to similar closures of places such as gyms, pools and movie theaters if the virus' spread isn't stemmed.

One of public health officials' goals is to prevent having to return to stay-at-home orders — a possibility state officials have repeatedly acknowledged.

Not all bars closed

On June 18, the state announced bars could open at 25% of the posted occupancy limit or 50 patrons, whichever is less. That change also included many other drinking establishments, such as breweries, distillery pubs and clubs.

Under the new closure, effective July 1, some bars that operate similar to restaurants may continue in-person service as long as patrons remain with their party, spaced 6 feet apart with no mingling, according to a news release from the governor's office.

That's an update to Colorado's safer-at-home order — the state's current set of social distancing rules — which is extended until July 30.

Those bars that function with a full-service kitchen or provide food from a licensed retail food establishment, such as a neighboring restaurant or food truck, were able to open along with restaurants as of May 27, according to a state fact sheet.

All bars still are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages for takeout or delivery if the beverages are sold with food, and they still can operate if they're open under a county “variance,” a waiver from the state's social distancing restrictions. Numerous counties across Colorado have been granted variances in different forms.

The safer-at-home order refers to bars, taverns, brew pubs, breweries, microbreweries, distillery pubs, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs and other establishments that offer alcoholic beverages for on-site drinking as “bars.”

'Protect our neighbors' outlined

In mid-June, Polis announced details of the state's third phase of social distancing, which the state dubbed “protect our neighbors.” Officials on June 30 more clearly outlined what it will look like.

Counties or regions of the state with low enough COVID-19 spread and robust enough ability to quash outbreaks will soon be able to allow all activities at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity, with at least 6 feet between non-household members and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time, according to state officials.

Starting the week of July 6, counties can request to qualify for the new phase. Areas will need to meet the following criteria:

• Low disease-transmission levels, including stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations or fewer new cases in the past two weeks.

• Local public-health agency capacity for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and outbreak response, including the ability to test 15 people per 10,000 residents per day, the ability to conduct contact tracing for at least 85% of assigned cases within 24 hours and strategies to offer testing to close contacts of outbreak-associated cases.

• Hospital ability to meet the needs of all patients and to handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care, including capacity to manage a 20% surge in hospital admissions and patient transfers, and two weeks of personal protective equipment available.

Counties or regions also will need to create a “mitigation plan,” state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said at Polis' June 30 news conference. That plan would list how counties will promote public compliance with social distancing guidelines, increase mask-wearing in public settings and increase flu vaccine uptake to ensure Colorado doesn't lose health-care system capacity needed for COVID-19 patients.

The plans must be approved by local elected officials — including county commissioners and mayors — and hospitals that serve the county, law enforcement, emergency management officials, local public health directors and, if applicable, tribes, according to the news conference slideshow.

Colorado, COVID-19, bars, nightclubs, Jared Polis, Ellis Arnold


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