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Denver-area health leaders ask CDPHE to not 'delay' COVID restrictions

As of Tuesday, most of the metro area met at least one metric for a stay-home order, according to Colorado's dial. But who would declare such an order is unclear.

DENVER — By late Tuesday afternoon, most of the Denver metro area met at least one state metric for a “stay-at-home” order, according to the COVID-19 dials provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). But should such an order become necessary in a county, it is unclear who would declare it.

Under state law, local public health departments have the power to order such a shutdown, though in a letter to the state health department last week, many local leaders implored the state health department to enact tougher restrictions.

The letter praises the state’s Safer At Home dial framework, which sets state standards for COVID restrictions based on county health data. The levels range from green, which is the least restrictive level, to red, which requires a county to essentially lock down to gain control of virus spread.

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In early November, most counties in the Denver metro area entered the orange phase, one step away from red. The orange phase brings the toughest restrictions outside of a stay-at-home order.

“While the dial is a good communications tool for the public…it’s very clear what it means to be in green, blue, yellow, orange and red," said Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, the organization which sent the letter signed by eight local public health leaders to CDPHE. "I think that what happens is the disease doesn’t work that way. You can go from blue to orange in a day,” 

In the letter, county health leaders say continued growth of cases in Colorado, especially in the Denver metro area, makes it difficult to keep the virus under control, limiting already stretched resources for contact tracing.

“Like you and our county leaders, we would like to keep our community sectors and businesses as open as possible, but worry about delaying the 'strong medicine' of a level change until it is too late to be effective,” the letter reads.

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To enter the red stage, requiring a stay-at-home order, the two-week growth rate of cases must top 350 per 100,000 people. Counties could also move into the red level if they have fewer than eight days of declining or stable hospitalizations.

By Tuesday afternoon, Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson, Douglas, Broomfield and Boulder counties all had a two-week incidence rate well over 350 per 100,000. Jefferson, Douglas, Denver and Arapahoe counties each were below the threshold for hospitalizations.

“I don’t think that we want to wait until we are in a crisis situation about putting something in place that affects all of us,” Anselmo said.

But a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis said the counties have the power to make these decisions on their own.

“We created the dial system because this virus is impacting communities in a different way — what is happening in Denver County is different than Jackson County,” Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said in a statement. “It’s important to remember that local jurisdictions have always had the ability to enact more restrictive policies than those outlined in the dial and we need to trust that they will do what to protect the health and safety of their residents.”

But Cahill didn’t rule out the governor taking statewide action if the pandemic worsens and begins to restrict hospital capacity across the state.

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