Updated at 5:30 p.m.
People in Douglas County — the seventh most populous in the state, which includes Castle Rock, Lone Tree, and other suburbs south of Denver — can legally resume going to churches, gyms, the Park Meadows Mall and restaurants that choose to open for in-person dining under new guidelines approved by state public health officials Friday. The approvals took effect immediately.
Additionally, the state has granted a request from Teller County, west of Colorado Springs, to open many of these same types of businesses along with movie theaters. The state has also approved further reopenings in the two counties that were the first to get waivers. Both Mesa County and Eagle County will permit gatherings up to 50 people.
In Douglas County gyms and fitness classes can resume with a total of ten people, including instructors. But bowling alleys, pools, and indoor athletic facilities are not included. People who show up to take fitness classes or use the gym should see signs telling them to stay home if they’re sick; staff have to wear masks and customers are encouraged to wear them but not required. Locker rooms and food and drink bars won’t open under the new rules.
Restaurants can reopen for in-person dining as long as they allow at least six feet between diners and don’t admit more than half the number of people allowed by the fire code, with a maximum of 75 people total. Customers have to wear masks as they walk in.
The approval for Douglas County comes days before the state is expected to release its own rules for restaurants and announce a date at which people will be able to return to in-person dining statewide.
Churches and other houses of worship can open for up to 50 percent of their fire code capacities. However, that capacity may be reduced if they need more space to ensure social distancing, which is also a requirement for reopening.
The Park Meadows Mall can open as long as customers maintain social distancing, and each store has 50 percent or less of its fire code capacity at any given time. State health officials say that in the mall, “It is critical that the indoor common areas be well-managed at all times such that no gatherings are occurring and instead customers are moving from one destination to the next.”
In all of these cases, the county has also implemented new cleaning measures and signage requirements, and encourages people to continue to use drive-up dining, retail and church services as often as possible, and to order take-out food instead of going to eat in person.
In its application, Douglas County officials note that they have “only experienced five outbreaks in care facilities, all involving five residents or less.” Long-term care facilities are the places COVID-19 is most most deadly and most rapidly spread.
In a section of the application called “personal responsibility,” Douglas County officials say they are relying on high-risk and older adults to continue to comply with the stay-at-home guidelines. The plan also assumes that in general people will decide to stay home if they’re sick, will isolate if they have COVID-19 symptoms, and will wear face masks.
There are specific triggers for reversing the state’s decision, but for now, state health officials say the county, “demonstrates that the TriCounty Health Department has a strong public health surveillance system, sufficient hospital capacity, and appropriate thresholds for rolling back the variance if conditions worsen.”
The state would automatically roll things back if any two of the following happen:
- A 20% increase in positive cases in three day rolling average over a 14-day period;
- More than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in two weeks;
- A substantial increase in hospitalizations directly related to COVID-19 over a 2-week period; or
- The inability of the TriCounty Health Department to contact trace new cases within 24 hours of a known positive test result.
A handful of other counties have been granted similar variances to Colorado’s public health orders. The first was Eagle County, where starting Monday, May 25, people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 50 people, as long as social distancing is maintained. Dine-in restaurant service, short-term lodging, and outdoor recreation businesses will also be allowed to reopen with new health and safety measures in place.
Mesa County, around Grand Junction, was next to get approval from the state for more reopenings, and now will also allow gatherings of 50 people, as well as indoor malls, restaurants and bars, and swimming pools.
Also on Friday, the state granted Teller County's request. Teller has had just 30 confirmed or epidemiologically linked cases of COVID-19. In addition to restaurants, gyms and places of worship, Teller County is reopening movie theaters. Customers will be asked to wear masks, and have to sit at least three seats apart from, and one row in front of or behind, other groups.