A Quarter Of Colorado Counties Want To Loosen Safer-At-Home Coronavirus Restrictions

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Moffat County Commissioners, from left, Don Cook, Ray Beck and Donald Broom listen as Jessica Valand of Workforce Colorado discusses county employment Jan. 21 2020.

When Gov. Jared Polis moved Colorado from his “stay at home” order to “safer at home," he introduced a new variable: Counties could propose their own changes to the restrictions.

They're taking him up on the offer.

Since last week, 16 of Colorado’s 64 counties have asked to further loosen the state’s pandemic restrictions, according to a map compiled by the advocacy group Colorado Counties Inc.

The requests have mostly come from rural areas on the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, along with a few in Southern Colorado. The governor's administration declined to release copies of the requests, but some counties have made their requests available online. They've largely focused on speeding up timelines and reopening businesses, according to Gini Pingenot, legislative director for CCI.

"They aren’t wholesale changes to the state safer-at-home," she said. "They’re generally around very specific targets, specific areas."

For example, Moffat County wants permission to reopen gyms, stores, movie theaters and places of worship, with distancing requirements. Each facility would have to submit a mitigation plan and get approval from the local health director.

County commissioners noted in a letter that Moffat only had seven cases as of April 28.

"Moffat County, being the small rural community that it is, rarely had 10 people in the non-essential retail shops or gym. The very nature of our population and businesses make social distancing very easy," the letter argued.

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. said that El Paso County is requesting a waiver for school graduations. County leaders are also working on a request regarding restaurants and places of worship, but hasn't debated or voted on that measure yet.

Polis said that counties must have a containment plan and low or declining case counts to get an exception. The state also looks at hospital capacity and other factors. Only Eagle and Mesa counties have been approved so far.

The following counties have requested waivers, according to CCI:

  • Alamosa
  • Cheyenne
  • Custer
  • Elbert
  • El Paso
  • Kit Carson
  • Logan
  • Montezuma
  • Moffat
  • Phillips
  • Prowers
  • Rio Blanco
  • Sedgwick
  • Teller
  • Yuma

CCI could not say whether Lincoln County had requested exemptions. Representatives for the county weren't immediately available for comment.

Representatives for the governor's administration didn't directly answer a question about how long it would take for pending requests to be approved. The decision ultimately goes to Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado department of Public Health and Environment.

Twenty-three counties, including several in the Denver metro and the high country, had restrictions stricter than the state's as of May 5.