COLORADO SPRINGS — Gov. Jared Polis announced a new dial system Tuesday as a way to visually represent how each county is doing in the COVID-19 reopening process.
To Coloradans, a color-coded dial is a familiar concept.
The new proposal introduces a dial chart, with a matrix that the department says would be used by local municipalities to determine when to further open, or close back down, various types of businesses and events based on the levels of virus transmission.
There are five levels under the proposal: stay-at-home, three phases of safer-at-home, and the protect-our-neighbors phase.
Within the three safer-at-home tiers are levels of “high risk”, “concern” and “cautious,” according to the draft from the CDPHE. The “high risk” level, Level 3, would be for counties seeing increasing virus levels that need to take action but not revert back to stay-at-home measures.
The “concern” level, Level 2, is the current baseline for the safer-at-home order. The “cautious” level, Level 1, is next to protect our neighbors, and will be for counties that have low virus levels but are not quite at the protect-our-neighbors phase.
"We have these fire dials that show when the risk is low, or medium, or high," Polis said. "And when it's high you can't do certain things."
And now, the state has added another dial to the mix.
"This is a visual representation of where COVID is in each community," Polis said. "So it's county by county."
As numbers in a county improve, that county's dial moves one spot to the left, one step closer to the "Protect Our Neighbors" phase.
"The dial framework has the protect our neighbors, it has the safer at home, it has all the different phases," Polis said.
Which tier applies to a community, under the draft guidelines, would be determined based on metrics involving new cases; positivity rates; whether hospitalizations are decreasing, increasing or flat; the epidemiological trend; anticipated transmission risks in the future; and whether or not a certain number of metrics for the protect0our-neighbors phase are met.
In El Paso County, health officials are eager to learn what the new system could bring.
"We are really excited, yeah," said Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director for El Paso County Public health. "That really is our goal is to use this tool in a way that informs the public, even daily."
Counties would be able to move to a less restrictive level if they meet all the positive metrics for a two-week period. Counties would also have to notify the CDPHE and local health care providers when they believe they are eligible to move to a less-restrictive level.
But counties would move back to more-restrictive measures if they fall out of compliance with the metrics. They would have a two-week grace period, under the draft guidelines, to regain compliance with a metric, and if they do not, they would have a meeting with the CDPHE to determine the next steps.
The guidelines also lay out suggested metrics for what different types of businesses and education facilities should do depending on what face that community might be in at that point in time.
As of Tuesday on the state's website, Pueblo County's dial was right in the middle, at the Safer at Home "concern" phase.
But El Paso County's dial was just one spot away from the lowest "Protect Our Neighbors" phase. The county is currently in the "cautious" phase of Safer at Home.
"When we look at what was happening at the end of July, early August, we have accomplished what we really have been asking the community to do," Johnson said.
Getting to the Protect Our Neighbors phase would allow county leaders, rather than state leaders, to take over handling restrictions.
"It's up to [the county] for the mask-wearing, it's up to [the county] whether you want bars to close, you know, normal time or earlier," Polis said. "So that's a real big step."
The state added two more counties to the Protect Our Neighbors phase Tuesday, bringing the grand total to five.
Counties will have a chance to submit letters in two weeks to request a new designation on the dial.
The CDPHE said that the state recognizes that each county in the state faces unique circumstances and that it hoped the new guidelines would help alleviate differences between the more-urban and more-rural communities.