Health officials clarify new COVID-19 protocols, outline path to ‘yellow’ status for businesses

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AURORA | The state health department Monday provided some clarification to the still-evolving protocols for how local businesses will be able to operate as counties across the metroplex slide into looser COVID-19 restrictions.

In a letter dated Dec. 31, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Jill Hunsaker Ryan told county officials that businesses will remain in the slightly more lax “orange” level of the state’s risk assessment dial unless the jurisdiction in which they reside can sustain a seven-day trend of “orange” metrics. Areas that do meet the “orange” threshold for one week — lower case numbers, positivity rates and hospitalizations — will then be allowed to move certain, qualifying businesses to the even looser “yellow” category.

“Counties that have yet to sustain a 7-day trend in orange metrics that have a Five Star program will need to wait until they achieve a 7-day trend in orange before those businesses can move to yellow,” according to Hunsaker Ryan’s letter, which county officials said they received Monday morning. “We will actively monitor if this is successful, and explore other instances in our policy where 7-day metrics may be more applicable than 14 day metrics as we walk the difficult line between our public health and economic response.”

All three of Aurora’s counties, Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas, maintain two-week cumulative incidence rates solidly in the “red” end of the state dial, though all three claim nearly two weeks of declining of stable hospitalizations, according to state data. The two-week average positivity rates remain “yellow” for Arapahoe and Douglas, and “orange” in Adams.

Confusion surrounding the sliding assessment scale abounded last week after Gov. Jared Polis issued a surprise announcement to move areas currently operating under the most severe “red” restrictions to the more relaxed “orange” level on Jan. 4.

The new edicts come as counties are rolling out Five-Star Recovery Partner Programs, which lift certain restrictions and increase capacity for indoor spaces despite data that, per the state’s own guidelines, should prohibit such activities.

In Arapahoe County, which covers the bulk of Aurora, officials have received more than 170 applications for five-star approval since last week, according to Luc Hatlestad, spokesman for Arapahoe County. About 80% of the applicants are restaurants, while the remainder are mostly gyms and fitness centers, Hatlestad said.

About 30 of the applications have been approved already, according to the county. Almost all of those that have gone through are based in the Greenwood Village portion of Arapahoe County as officials there began performing the necessary site inspections last week. The process is expected to unfurl in the rest of the county this week.