AURORA | Hold your horses, Aurora: Gov. Jared Polis is allowing local control of pandemic restrictions, but residents in Arapahoe and Adams counties will still have to live under some virus rules until mid-May.
Arapahoe County officials announced Thursday they’ll remain in “level blue” on the COVID-19 dial. Adams County will move from “yellow” level to “blue” on Friday.
Even with fewer restrictions on the horizon, health officials remain cautious as the region enters what top health authorities are calling a “fourth wave” driven in part by more contagious COVID-19 variants.
Beginning tomorrow the Tri-County Health Department will take over virus restrictions for Aurora. Douglas County commissioners — who govern a small slice of Aurora — greeted the news earlier this week by announcing they’ll opt-out of Tri-County’s orders.
But for the vast majority of Aurorans, pandemic restrictions will continue until May 15.
On Tri-County’s new COVID-19 dial, level blue restrictions include:
- 100% capacity in restaurants and gyms, but with six feet of distance between people.
- 25% capacity in bars.
- Schools can remain open.
- 75% capacity in offices.
In mid-May, Tri-County will move counties to “Level Clear” on the dial, which has no restrictions. Restaurants and other businesses will be able to to operate at 100% capacity. The public health agency may still require that people wear masks, which is a mandate ordered by the state.
A Tri-County spokesperson said the agency is reserving the right to ramp restrictions back up if hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to rise.
Polis announced the local control decision amid the beginning of a so-called fourth wave of COVID-19. Despite the vaccination rollout — more than a quarter of the 1.5 million residents in the Tri-County region are fully vaccinated — cases are on the rise.
The region’s hospitalization rate is also ticking back on after months of decline. Locally, that’s still largely driven by people aged 65 and above.
Statewide, health officials say that the picture is sunnier. Polis says that the typical age of a hospitalized patient is now lower than usual, which leads to better outcomes.
But the trend isn’t yet reflected in local death rates, which have remained level since late-February.
And Polis and heath officials are emphasizing that local health agencies, like Tri-County, and counties will make smart decisions about virus control.
The Associated Press reported that pandemic fatigue is now a powerful force shaping virus policies across the U.S., including in Colorado. Many residents are simply unwilling to follow restrictions, and some public health experts say policymakers should accept that reality.
Scott Bookman, the COVID-19 incident commander at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, acknowledged Thursday during a news conference that many Coloradans are tired of virus restrictions.
“We know that everyone is getting tired of this pandemic,” Bookman said Thursday. “We’re all getting tired of this pandemic.”
But he said many factors went into Polis’ decision. Notably: the diversity in different counties’ virus levels. Much of the eastern plains is currently on the most relaxed spot on the COVID-19 dial, while much of the Front Range and central mountains communities are seeing higher virus metrics.
Bookman added that there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel.” He implored Coloradans to continue to social distance, wear a mask and abide by local rules.