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Several Colorado counties are moving to stricter levels on the state's COVID-19 dial, with health officials warning the virus will be harder to suppress in the winter months.

After a "swift rise in cases" over two weeks and mounting pressure on the health care system, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced Oct. 27 that the following counties are moving to more restrictive levels: 

  • Adams County is moving to Safer at Home 3 on Oct. 28.
  • Arapahoe County is moving to Safer at Home 2 on Oct. 28.
  • Denver County is moving to Safer at Home 3 on Oct. 28.
  • Otero County is moving to Safer at Home 2 on Oct. 30. 
  • Crowley County is moving Safer at Home 2 on Oct. 30.

On Oct. 26, La Plata County moved to Safer at Home 2 and Mesa County moved to Safer at Home 1. 

The counties have submitted mitigation plans to the CDPHE and are working to reverse the trends.

Every Safer at Home level limits personal gatherings to 10 or fewer people from no more than two households, and there are various capacity limits for other activities.

See the comparative chart of capacity restrictions at every level here.   

"We need everyone to stay vigilant. Colorado is experiencing a swift rise in cases right now that is worrisome," Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE, said in a statement.

As we head into winter and spend more time indoors, the virus is going to be harder to suppress. The dial is designed for the long haul, in an attempt to control infections based on local conditions. We are grateful for the cooperation of counties, and the seriousness with which they are taking their response." 

Colorado's dial framework standardizes different levels of "openness" at the county level and aims to help counties balance controlling the virus with social and economic needs.

The dial framework has five levels that guide a county's response to COVID-19. Capacity restrictions for businesses, restaurants, schools, places of worship, and other locations vary based on a county's dial level.

A county's dial level is determined by three metrics: new cases, meaning how much the virus is circulating in a county; percent positivity, meaning whether there is sufficient COVID-19 testing to capture the level of virus transmission; and impact on hospitalizations, showing whether hospitalizations are increasing, stable, or declining. 

This tool, according to CDHE, is intended to help counties determine when and how they should move from one dial level to another. The COVID-19 dial includes five levels, from least to most restrictive:

  • Protect Our Neighbors - Careful: Local public health agencies are able to contain surges in cases and outbreaks through testing, case investigation, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, site-specific closures, and enforcement of public health orders. 
  • Safer at Home 1 - Cautious: Less restrictive than Safer at Home Level 2, this level is for counties with low virus transmission that have not yet achieved Protect Our Neighbors. 
  • Safer at Home 2 - Concern: The baseline. While we are all still safer at home, we are also able to practice greater social distancing in our great outdoors than in confined indoor spaces. 
  • Safer at Home 3 - High Risk: This is more restrictive than Safer at Home Level 2, for counties experiencing increased metrics. Action is needed, but Stay at Home may not be warranted. 
  • Stay at Home: Everyone is required to stay at home except for grocery shopping, exercise and necessary activities. Only critical businesses are open.

For a county to move from a more restrictive level to a less restrictive one, it must meet and sustain the less restrictive level's required metrics for two weeks. 

The dial dashboard is available at covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19-dial/covid-19-dial-dashboard.

Additionally, Colorado could run out of hospital beds by the end of the year if the state’s COVID-19 trends continue unchecked, Gov. Jared Polis said in an Oct. 27 update. 

“The trends are unsustainable and these numbers are very concerning," Gov. Jared Polis said. "If these trends continue, we will exceed May hospitalization numbers — the peak of our first wave — by next month, and the most recent modeling predicts that we’ll exceed all of our existing hospital capacity by the end of the year.

“There’s time to fix this by staying safer at home, signing up for Exposure Notifications, wearing a mask when you have to be out, avoiding groups, and washing your hands regularly.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched the COVID-19 Exposure Notification system Oct. 25 to boost the effectiveness of contact tracing.  

At the update, three COVID-19 survivors shared stories about their experiences, challenges, and lingering health issues from the virus. 

“I hope this is a wake-up call and Coloradans heed the advice of COVID survivors like Barbara, Kim, Clarence, and many others who are dealing with the health and personal challenges that stem from this deadly virus,” Polis said.

Barbara — only her first name was given — was in the hospital for 91 days, 65 of which were spent on a ventilator. 

“I don’t recognize myself,” she said. “This is a serious illness and I never said ‘Why me?’ because the answer is really ‘Why not me? We just don’t know and for people who think they are immune or won’t get as sick: you just don’t know, so it’s important to be very careful.”

Kim, a COVID survivor and family nurse practitioner, said, “I was always on the go; I was a runner and I often would drive my partner nuts because I would race to the top of the mountain because that’s just who I was. 

“Today, anything more than a slow walk to the mailbox requires oxygen. I haven’t been able to do many of the things that used to bring me joy — I can’t run, go to the mountains, I haven’t regained the stamina or grip to play my drums again. It’s affected every organ system in my body and every person in my life.”

“[W]hen I hear certain people say that this isn’t real, or it’s just a bad cold or flu or even that it’s a hoax, I find that very distributing because it’s so much more than that,” COVID survivor Clarence said. “It’s 100 percent real and we can’t do too much to be safe and protect ourselves and protect those around us. I don’t wish this on anyone.”

Scott Bookman, CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander, discussed hospitalization data and highlighted the dashboard on hospital capacity, which is updated daily at 10 a.m.

“We want to do everything we can to avoid overwhelming our hospitals,” he said. “However, we have been preparing the Colorado healthcare system since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure the best possible scenario for Coloradans.”