Colorado lifts COVID capacity restrictions for large indoor crowds

Governor's mask order expires, but masks still required by state health department


A month and a half after Colorado let its “dial” of coronavirus restrictions expire, the state has also lifted capacity restrictions on large indoor gatherings, a limit that remained after the state dial's end.

An updated statewide public health order, effective June 1, also somewhat modifies Colorado's mask requirements.

The governor's mask executive order expired June 1, according to the governor's office, but its requirements generally live on through the updated public health order.

Here's a look at what changed with the public health order update.

State limits on mass events lifted

Previously, under Colorado's statewide order, when more than 100 people gathered in a room in a public indoor space, the setting could operate at 100% capacity or up to 500 people, with 6 feet required between parties of unvaccinated people or when vaccination status is unknown. That order took effect April 16.

“Public indoor space” meant any enclosed indoor area that is publicly or privately owned, managed, or operated that is accessible to the public, serves as a place of employment, or provides services.

The term did not include a person's residence, including a room in a hotel or a residential room for students at an educational facility.

Under the previous rules, venues could apply to their local public health agency for a “variance” — or exemption — to exceed 500 people, which needed to be finally approved by the state public-health department.

Now, the updated public health order removes those restrictions.

Local limits generally lifted

The state's color-coded COVID-19 dial was the set of restrictions counties had to follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affected capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial last Sept. 15.

Colorado allowed the dial to expire as expected in mid-April, but health agencies in the Denver metro area extended the dial system locally as a rise in virus cases and the continued spread of COVID-19 variants kept health officials worried. 

As of May 16, several metro counties are now operating in what they call “level clear,” generally with no local restrictions — and that's likely to continue unless things take a turn for the worse.

'Snapback restrictions' still possible

A “snapback” to state-imposed coronavirus restrictions could occur if hospitalizations rise high enough, according to a news release from the state public-health department.

In counties whose resident hospitalizations threaten to exceed 85% of hospital or hospital system capacity, the state public-health department may require implementing additional restrictions, the public health order's text says.

Mask requirements tweaked

During a May 14 news conference, Gov. Jared Polis announced a relaxing of the statewide mask order, which after that point required masks unless people can prove they are vaccinated in settings such as prisons and jails, health care facilities, and schools.

The governor announced the changes following updated guidance by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of May 13 that says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by law or regulations, or local business and workplace guidance.

At that point, individuals 10 years old and younger and those who “cannot medically tolerate” a face covering were exempt from Colorado's mask order.

The state's updated public health order tweaks the exceptions to include individuals 11 years of age or younger. Changing the requirements to start at age 12 was intended to reflect the state's vaccine-eligible population, according to the news release.

Masks are now required for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated Coloradans in the following settings and situations:

• Preschool through grade 12 schools, including extracurricular activities;

• Child care centers and services, including camps, except while participating in outdoor activities;

• Staff of Colorado Department of Motor Vehicle offices;

• Residents, staff and visitors to prisons;

• Residents, staff and visitors to jails;

• And emergency medical and other health care settings.

The update clarified that patients, staff and visitors in health care settings are included in the requirements, according to the news release.

It also removed a reference to “congregate care” settings, which are addressed in a separate order. Public health order 20-20 includes requirements for nursing facilities, assisted living residences, group homes and other care facilities.

Requirements enforceable

It was unclear if there was any difference in Colorado’s mask requirements being mandated by public health order only and not by executive order. A call and email to the governor’s office were not immediately returned.

The Colorado State Joint Information Center, which takes questions for the state public-health department, responded to questions by noting: “Public health orders carry the weight of law.”

But its statement did not address why Colorado is choosing to mandate mask-wearing by public health order only and not executive order, or whether the forms of order have legal differences in this case.

Colorado’s COVID-19 public health orders are generally the kind that rely on voluntary compliance. But failure to comply with the public health order could result in penalties, including jail time, and fines, according to the order’s text.

Travel rules

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is still required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations, according to the CDC. That is true even if a person is fully vaccinated.

COVID-19, Colorado, restrictions, indoor events, gatherings, Ellis Arnold


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