It’s a bright spring-like day, a Colorado bluebird day.
In downtown Denver street, teens and early 20-somethings line up around the block of the Fillmore Auditorium. One group breaks into song. “You’re the habit that I can’t break!” they scream in unison.
“We're waiting in line for the Louis Tomlinson concert,” said Cristina Chirvasa. “He used to be in the band One Direction, but now he’s got a flourishing solo career.”
Chirvasa is sitting on the sidewalk, in a mess of blankets and a pillow. She’s got the first spot in line. She’s starting to go to shows again after a long two years.
For this show, masks and vaccinations are required. But that could change soon, too.
“It's nice to kind of be back in a more normal environment,” Chirvasa said. “When you're at a concert, you kind of feel like things are coming back to normal and that there's hope for the future.”
In a pink box, a dozen melting chocolate-glazed Voodoo Donuts await. Fiona O’Brien is up at the front of the line as well.
“I'm triple vaccinated, because that's just, you know, the smart thing to do. It makes me a little bit nervous, but I'm double masking for the show,” she said.
For O’Brien it does feel like a bit of a new dawn. And a lot of Coloradans would probably agree. Transmission rates, cases, hospitalizations have all been dropping to levels not seen since last summer, and so are many restrictions and recommendations on things like masks.
Last month, in a clear sign of an improving COVID-19 outlook, the state of Colorado said it’s dropping the guidelines it put in place to help manage pandemic waves for hospital staffing and emergency medical services.
The crisis standards of care protocols were implemented when hospitals and EMS were pushed to the limit by the one-two variant punch of delta and omicron in recent months.
Despite the improving situation, O’Brien said the last two years have instilled some caution. “I don't think it's over at all. Like, it's nice that we're able to do things like this, but it's also incredibly important to stay really safe,” she said.
Cautious optimism from Coloradans around the state
A few miles away, in Washington Park, the sands are shifting in the playground — at the hands of a youngster named Nova. “I'm making this huge big mountain,” she said.
She is piling sand as grandpa Van Williams watches. He’s a retired geologist and expresses a weary but pragmatic optimism.
Asked if he feels ready to turn the page on the pandemic, Williams said, “We're in a different stage. That doesn't mean it's all gone. It could come at any time, but we're having a little break.”
Williams said his daughter is a virologist.
“I take my clues from her, I guess you could say. She and Dr. Fauci and I, we’re all on the same page here,” he said.
Williams and his family have been careful, wearing masks, getting vaccinated and boosted. Eventually, omicron still found them, getting quite a few family members mildly sick. With that behind them, Williams said he’s now ready to get out a bit more.
“We're doing more traveling now, but not too much by air. Although we're going to ease into that,” he said.
Over at the hoops court, Dosh Simms is listening to tunes from portable speakers and shooting baskets. Then he pops an impressive handstand, then lifts one arm.
Simms said he, his wife and daughter caught COVID-19 last year. He’s unvaccinated, but said no one got too sick.
“Mild symptoms, you know, I think the worst was the lost taste, couldn’t eat the good foods,” he said.
Simms is a fitness instructor and said his workplace has closely followed the rules, masking when required. He said he’s ready to roll with whatever comes next.
“I don't know, man. It kind of feels like I guess you just got to figure it out as you go,” he said. “I feel like nobody really knows and everybody’s got an agenda.”
Across the state in Grand Junction, it’s also a nice day. Mom Alysha Baker walks her one-and-a-half-year-old Baylor on Main Street. She says the virus is real, but never trusted the response or even the latest official data.
“I think the reporting is not correct. I think that the testing is not correct,” she said.
Baker works in a hospital, registering patients. The virus scared her early on. But over time she started questioning the effectiveness of masks and vaccines; she applied for and got a religious exemption to avoid a requirement at work.
“I don't think that it's something that we should stop living our lives for because it's here and it's gonna stay,” Baker said. “And I think that people should build up an immunity to it more than being scared and locked away in their house, because that's no way to live.”
In Colorado Springs, parents Benjamin Brunson and Marisol Whaleswan are going to pick up their four-month old son from grandma. Brunson isn’t vaccinated and is worried about his child. “I'm kind of scared about the new variants and stuff going on.”
Brunson said he worries vaccines got developed too quickly. He could change his mind, but in the meantime will keep wearing a mask in crowded settings.
“The mask mandate at certain places is definitely needed as far as traveling or really like tight enclosed sit-in restaurants where it's kind of like, those are the hot spots, you know what I mean?” he said.
Whaleswan finds the current state of the pandemic a bit unsettling. Things are better but some are still getting sick. “I feel like some things have kind of cleared, at the same time. It still feels bumpy, you know, like it doesn't fully feel like everything's cleared,” she said. “I don't know. It's very, like, it feels very confusing.”
For the first time since the state started collecting COVID-19 data, the number of reported cases dropped below 100 to 52 cases reported on Friday. According to the state's dashboard, on March 1 the state recorded 347 cases and on March 2 the figure was 249.
In another encouraging sign, the seven-day test positivity rate was 3.3 percent Friday, below the 5 percent that officials find worrisome and the lowest percent since March 2020.
Back at the Fillmore, you can still see signs of the in-between time. Outside the concert venue, a few are wearing masks, everyone in line has a yellow wristband. They got them when they showed their vaccine card. It’s no big deal — unlike singer Louis Tomlinson.
The crowd screams as it gathers around his tour bus. The cell phones are out to capture the moment. And soon he’s being serenaded. “Never been so defenseless, you keep building up your fences!” they sing, warming up with one of his songs for a concert that’s still hours away.
CPR Western Slope reporter Stina Sieg and Southern Colorado reporter Dan Boyce contributed to this report.
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