COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County health and City of Colorado Springs officials announced new steps in slowing the spread of COVID-19 on Friday.
Effective Monday, the new mandate calls for fewer than 100 people in a business at a time, down from the current 175, while still practicing social distancing and following the statewide mask mandate. Houses of worship may still have up to 175 people in attendance if following best practices. This new capacity limit does not apply to outdoor venues.
The idea behind these changes is to avoid losing variances that have allowed businesses to reopen. "We have made great strides, and we want to continue moving forward in a direction that will protect the health and well-being of our community and our residents," said Dr. Robin Johnson, the medical director for El Paso County Public Health.
In recent months CDPHE has approved several variances, allowing larger gathering sizes for indoor and outdoor events, personal recreation, restaurants, and more in the county. The variances included the need for a mitigation plan if case numbers exceeded certain thresholds, according to data on the Public Health website.
"Today's actions are really an important wake up call for our community to remind us that this virus remains very active and very dangerous. We must all do our part to stop the spread so we can return to normalcy... We think these are small and reasonable steps, so that we can avoid more drastic steps, such as possibly closing down our retail, restaurants, and other aspects of our economy," said Mayor John Suthers.
El Paso County has seen a steady increase in cases recently, surpassing the thresholds in the approved variances and indicating a need for further measures, including:
- Public health, city, county and business officials have agreed to temporarily reduce their indoor capacity to 100 people, except for houses of worship. Prior, they were allowed to have up to 175 people.
- Officials have agreed to collaborate to explore options for a free drive-through community-based testing site.
- County, City, and business officials have made a commitment to advocate for increased teleworking.
Even though there had been a steady increase in recent weeks, Dr. Johnson said they have seen some stabilization in case numbers in the past few days. "While we are cautiously optimistic about these most recent numbers, it is imperative that we remain vigilant," said Dr. Johnson.
“We appreciate the support from CDPHE and all of our community partners,” said Susan Wheelan, El Paso County Public Health Director. “First and foremost, our priority is to protect the health and well-being of our residents. We are grateful for the opportunity to discuss realistic and actionable mitigation measures we can implement as a county, and we remain committed to utilizing all of the prevention tools available to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
El Paso County officials say this is a temporary suspension of variances affecting indoor spaces for two weeks, and groups will reassess data related to the virus. "While we say that we'll formally review again in another two weeks, we will still continue that conversation with our partners and with the state," said Dr. Johnson.
There is no set timeline for when the testing site could be expected in El Paso County. Dr. Johnson said they are working on it as quickly as they can.
The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC is also trying to assist businesses transition to teleworking, or working from home. "We are working now to develop a tool kit for businesses that we'll roll out in the coming days, in digital formats. We'll host Zoom discussions with business leaders, and we will host telephone town halls for business employees and business leaders to understand the options and best practices that lie ahead during this temporary suspension," said Dirk Draper of the Chamber & EDC.
Public Health, along with city, county, and business leaders, are confident the stepped up efforts will help slow the spread of the virus.
However, for Stargazer's Theatre and Event Center, the new change on indoor capacities creates more work for them. They have only been open for around two weeks at this point, and were just starting to have concerts again with the 175 capacity in effect. "We literally, just two days ago, finished planning to meet that 175 mark with these shows, and now we're just going to have to get back on the phone and email with all the patrons who have bought tickets expecting to be able to spread out a little bit more, and just tell them, it might change, and their concert dates might now be on a different day in order to accommodate for that new 100 limit," said Evan Hooton, the owner of Stargazers Theatre and Event Center.
Hooton said moving down to the 100 limit is potentially not viable for his business, so he hopes people work together to help slow the spread of the virus. "Whatever we can do at this particular time, even if it's only for another two week period, I think we should all really strongly consider it," said Hooton.
El Paso County Public Health reminded everyone to wear a face mask while in public, practice good hygiene, and to socially distance.