State OKs Arapahoe County request for eased virus rules

Changes cover restaurants, gyms, houses of worship

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Gyms, restaurants and houses of worship will see expanded capacity under the state's June 29 approval of Arapahoe County's request for a waiver from Colorado's social distancing limits.

The county filed the request for the waiver, known as a “variance,” on June 10. Like numerous counties across Colorado, Arapahoe sought to tweak the rules in the state's safer-at-home order, which went into effect April 27 and was updated in May and June.

Arapahoe requested the following changes:

• Allow gyms to open to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person. As of June 18, statewide, except in counties with waivers, gyms are limited to up to 25% capacity or 50 people — whichever is fewer — per room, so long as people can stay 6 feet apart from each other, excluding staff and coaches. 

• Allow restaurants​ up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with patrons spaced 6 feet apart between seats at different tables, with no total person cap. As of June 18, statewide, aside from counties with waivers, restaurants may open to up to 50% or 50 people — whichever is fewer — so long as tables are at least 6 feet apart.

• Allow houses of worship​ up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person. Statewide, aside from exceptions, houses of worship could hold a maximum of 50% capacity or up to 50 people per room as of June 18.

• Arapahoe's request also asked that its only indoor mall — the Town Center at Aurora, near East Alameda Avenue and Interstate 225 — be allowed to open with up to 30% of building capacity. As of June 18, Colorado had allowed indoor venues — which includes indoor malls — to open statewide with capacity depending on the building's size, up to 100 people per confined indoor space. Capacity can be calculated using the state's Social Distancing Space Calculator.

Request approved with changes

In a June 29 letter, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, approved Arapahoe's request with some amendments. The department granted the following:

• Gyms, restaurants and houses of worship may allow for 50% of the posted occupancy code, not to exceed more than 175 people, in a confined indoor space with at least 6 feet of distancing.

• Restaurants and houses of worship may work with local authorities to determine how many people they may have in an outdoor space pursuant to the safer-at-home order.

• Based on the state's approval for Arapahoe, the total limit for an indoor mall for any confined indoor space is 175 people. “It is critical for the common spaces within the indoor mall to be well-managed,” Ryan's letter says, to mitigate gatherings above 10 people and keep traffic flow moving.

Some areas on shaky ground

The state's approval of the county's new rules is subject to adjustment if COVID-19's spread worsens, according to Ryan's letter.

Some areas of Colorado have shown cause for concern in recent weeks. While new cases had slowed in Colorado, the number of new cases is once again increasing, according to a June 29 news release from Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

When comparing the average number of reported cases per day, for the week of June 7 compared to the week of June 21, Adams County went from an average of 25 new cases per day to 32 cases per day, Arapahoe County went from an average of 23 to 29 and Douglas County went from an average of 6 to 12, according to the release.

“This recent uptick isn't surprising, since we knew that when we began to increase testing and ease some of our social distancing restrictions, the numbers of cases would likely increase,” John Douglas, Tri-County Health's executive director, said in the release.

“However, as the experience in other states in many parts of the U.S. indicates, now is not a time to be complacent about key prevention strategies, including wearing a face mask in public, continuing to social distance, washing your hands frequently and getting tested and isolating when sick.”

In roughly one week in June alone, Boulder County saw more than 100 new cases, largely linked to graduating college seniors — and Gov. Jared Polis warned the situation could balloon if Coloradans don't wear masks and take caution in public.

“We are starting to see new outbreaks in different parts of the state: San Luis Valley, El Paso County, Boulder County, San Miguel County. We're also watching Eagle County very closely,” Polis said at a June 24 news conference, adding that “all of our gains could be reversed very quickly if we're not careful.”

Tri-County's news release told the public: “We can still celebrate the July Fourth holiday; we just need to do it more carefully.”

“As we head into the July Fourth holiday weekend, please remember to keep your gatherings small and limit contact with people with whom you have not already been socializing,” Tri-County said in the release.

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