New pandemic orders clamp down on Aurora, metro area as infections climb

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The new COVID-19 graphic dial showing an increased level of alarm for all of the metro area

DENVER | Aurora and essentially all of the metro area have fallen under new COVID-19 restrictions that call for closing bars, prohibiting indoor shows and events, and limiting restaurants to take-out and outdoor services.

The announcement Tuesday evening from Arapahoe County and Tri-County Health came hours after Gov. Jared Polis announced another revision of a statewide regulations and metrics among rapidly rising COVID-19 infections.

Many Colorado communities are experiencing exponential growth of COVID-19 cases, prompting state health leaders to restructure restrictions and Polis to call state lawmakers back to the state Capitol to work on a relief package. 

CLICK HERE TO SEE A COMPLETE SUMMARY OF NEW RESTRICTIONS

One-in-58 people in Adams County are contagious with coronavirus, while in Arapahoe County, it’s one in 83 people. All three of the counties Aurora encompasses — Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas — have been sitting in the “orange” level of safer at home restrictions, meaning many businesses are operating at a 25% capacity. 

Arapahoe County officials say the rate of positivity among those tested has pushed above 12%. Anything over a 5% positivity rate was considered alarming just weeks ago.

A new “purple” level has been added to the state’s categories of infection levels. That level represents “extreme risk.” Polis said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference that hitting purple would mean a county is exceeding hospital capacity. The order affects 15 counties across the state.

The new structure goes into effect Friday. 

New restrictions include:

• No indoor restaurant service. Take-out, delivery and curbside on, except for outdoor dining. It’s unclear whether new dining greenhouses and yurts are included in the bans as they constitute “enclosed” dining, which is prohibited. Outside dining is limited to people from the same household.

• Bars are closed and all restaurant liquor sales ends at 8 p.m.

• Manufacturing businesses are limited to 25% capacity.

• Offices are limited to 10% capacity.

• Current variances will be re-evaluated. Currently, the Gaylord Hotel and Conference Center operates on a variance. It’s unclear how that might change.

• Personal gatherings at homes, such as dinner parties and game nights, are prohibited.

• Childcare remains open.

• Churches can allow worship services at 25% capacity, limited to 50 people.

• Grocery stores and other retail limited to 50% capacity.

• Indoor events and entertainment is prohibited.

  • Gyms and fitness centers limited to 10% capacity and 10 people per room. Reservations required.

The “red” level has so far signified a stay at home order for counties. Now level red will represent stricter restrictions, like prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants. 

Arapahoe, Adams, Denver, Jefferson and Douglas counties were all branded red Tuesday by the state health department.

Municipalities around the Denver metroplex are expected to act regionally moving forward, Polis said, although it’s not entirely clear what that’ll look like at this point. The Tri-County Health Department has public health authority in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, but has often taken a more narrow approach to health orders within its jurisdiction. 

Before a mask mandate was ordered statewide TCH opted to leave Douglas County out of its local order. While some questioned whether the move was political, health leaders said the decision was based on data and case numbers.

In addition to a new level or restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus, state leaders will look at ways to keep the state economy afloat as the surge continues.

State lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol after Thanksgiving to take up a relief package that would boost small businesses most at risk of closing, like restaurants, ensure child care for parents who cannot work from home and help Coloradans struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. 

“This epidemic has torn through our country with unmatched aggression and unrelenting persistence. It has claimed the lives of more than 247,000 Americans and left families ripped apart,” Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said. “Yet the loss of life is only one piece of the devastation. People have lost their jobs, their life savings, their family businesses, and not least of all their hope. These Coloradans cannot wait another moment, and neither should we. We need to act urgently to bring relief to the people of our state. So we have decided to pull every lever, find every dime, and use every tool in our toolbox to make it happen. 

Speaker-designate Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said during the news conference that passing a conservative budget earlier this year makes this pending relief package possible. 

“We need an economic recovery where every Coloradan has a fair shot, but this can’t happen if restaurants and bars close, families lose their homes, students can’t get online, and day care centers shutter. We need to act now to bridge the gap where Washington has failed, or our economy will falter,” he said.

Polis said he hasn’t spoken to the transition team for President-elect Joe Biden yet about pandemic response but remains on weekly briefings with members of the current federal coronavirus task force. 

Still, even with state relief legislation, Polis urged federal lawmakers to do more as the state is unable to provide benefits like a stimulus check to all residents or an added boost to unemployment payments.

Washington Democrats and Republicans generally say a new stimulus bill is needed, but they disagree on its scope. Some Republicans are opposed to sending another round of checks to most taxpayers and some don’t want Washington to bail out state and local governments that had financial struggles before the pandemic.

Colorado Republican Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert praised the governor’s call for a special session and said Senate Republicans are ready to negotiate legislation with their Democratic colleagues.

“We are thankful that Governor Polis recognizes that the limits of unilateral, executive action have been reached and we agree that involving the legislature is necessary to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic, educational, and other impacts stemming from it,” Holbert said.

“We hope that Democrats will give the same good faith consideration to legislation that we might propose as we are to theirs,” he said.

This is not the governor’s first attempt to overcome the absence of federal aid since Congress and President Donald Trump passed a nearly $3 trillion economic stimulus package back in March which granted checks to individuals and families who qualified.

In October, Polis issued an executive order to send $375 stimulus checks to those who received unemployment benefits from March to October. The money is expected to be sent out in early December.

Patty Nieberg of the Associated Press contributed to this story.