Polis says indoor dining "reasonably safe" in move from Level Red to Orange

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Posted at 12:22 PM, Dec 31, 2020

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday said bringing back indoor dining drove his decision to ask state health officials to move Denver and other large counties from Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial to Level Orange.

"There are ways to have a reasonably safe dining experience" indoors, Polis told Denver7 in an interview Thursday morning.

Moving counties from Level Red to Level Orange would allow for a return to indoor dining at restaurants, which has been prohibited for weeks under Level Red. Level Orange would still require indoor capacity limits of 25% for restaurants.

Polis' request, which he posted on social media Wednesday night, would lower restrictions in 33 Colorado counties currently on Level Red. Polis cited a decrease in COVID-19 cases and an improvement in ICU capacity statewide.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have had to walk a difficult line between the public health crisis and the economic crisis,” Polis said in the late-night post. “In reviewing the data today, Colorado has been in a sustained decline for 13 days, and only 73% of ICU beds statewide are in use.”

Two weeks ago, Dr. Jonathan Samet, the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health who leads the state's data modeling team, co-authored an op-ed in The Denver Post with Elizabeth Carlton, associate professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, arguing against indoor dining.

"In study after study, restaurants are linked to coronavirus spread," Samet and Carlton wrote. "The evidence comes from scientific studies investigating sources of outbreaks, the impact of policies, and recent activities of infected people."

Their op-ed acknowledged that keeping indoor dining closed will be "devastating" for restaurants but "will help us survive the pandemic."

"Let's make sure the restaurants have the support they need to survive as well," Samet and Carlton wrote.

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Still, on Thursday, Dr. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, "The 13-day decline in the number of cases is a strong indication that we are moving in the right direction. Coloradans have been successful in slowing the spread, and we need them to keep following public health protocols — like continuing to only interact with those they live with, especially through the holiday."

"In general, countries restricted in level red have reduced viral transmission to a point where we can provide economic relief and move them into level orange, recognizing the fact that economic hardships also cause poorer health outcomes," Ryan said. "We plan to work with local public health agencies on the next steps. Counties are always able to set more restrictive orders than the state if they so choose."

When asked Thursday if he was on the same page as the CDPHE, Polis said the decision to move from Level Red to Level Orange would be a "regional call," meaning if one county in the Denver metro moves to Orange, others will likely do the same.

The move to Level Orange could happen as early as next week, Polis said.

Denver health officials Thursday said the move to Level Orange would include Denver County and was a sign of numbers "trending in the right direction." Denver will move to Level Orange on Monday.

Arapahoe County on Thursday announced it would be moving to Level Orange, given the governor's request. Adams County later announced it would also move to Level Orange, beginning Monday. Broomfield also joined the list of counties announcing it would move to Level Orange on Monday. Jefferson County will also move to Level Orange on Monday and was approved for the Five-Star program Thursday.

But the certified businesses that have received approval will not be able to operate under Five-Star Level Yellow until counties that have received approval have met the Level Orange requirements for 14 days, which includes an incidence rate of less than 350 per 100,000 people, a positivity rate under 15% and decreasing or stable hospitalizations for more than eight days.