DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis said Colorado is experiencing a fourth wave of the COVID pandemic, but despite that, it's time to give counties more control.
On Friday, April 16, the state's COVID-19 dial will be handed over to county health departments so they can determine whether to heighten or lessen restrictions.
Tri-County Health is implementing a two-phase plan.
"We want to get open as quickly as we can, but we think that next Friday is a little early," said Dr. John Douglas, Tri-County Health's executive director.
He said phase one extends the current dial one month, and moves all three counties — Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas — up one level, essentially from Level Yellow to Level Blue.
That means restaurants can serve up to 100% capacity, with six feet spacing, he said.
In Phase two, counties will move to level clear, which has no restrictions.
"The idea of phase two is just a fancy way of saying, we're going to observe what's happening," he said.
During the three-month observation period, which runs from mid-May to mid-August, Tri-County will use the hospitalization metric to determine what happens next.
"If the county's 14-day rolling average hospitalization rate exceeds two per 100,000, they move back to blue," Douglas said. "If it exceeds three per 100,000, they move back to yellow. If it exceeds four per 100,000, orange, and five per 100,000, red."
Douglas said once you're in phase one, you're good to go for a month.
"We hope hospitalizations don't get worse, because we've said we're not going to move you even if your rates get worse," he said.
He said they have confidence in the one-month commitment because more people are getting vaccinated.
"If our rates of vaccination continue going up like they are now, we ought to be at about a 60% or so," he said. "That's not herd immunity, but it's getting us close enough that we think the chance of bad things happening are low enough, that even with the variants, at least the way they are now, that we can go back to fully reopen during phase two."
Douglas said the counties can "opt out" of the two-phase approach if they desire.
Anthony Lombardi, owner of Bravo's Italian Restaurant in Northglenn, said he thinks it's time to lift the capacity restrictions.
"I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of being upset. I'm tired of suffering," he said.
Lombardi said nobody is going out to small places like his because they're scared.
He blames the governor, to an extent.
"My restaurant on a Sunday used to be packed," he said. "You couldn't even get in here. Now I look at it. And it's hard."
Lombardi said he thinks the governor needs to understand that it's not his money.
"He's living large where he's at," the restaurant owner said. "But these small businesses, like ours, are suffering so bad that we don't know what the outcome is going to be in the next few months."
Lombardi's aunt, Silvana Lafferty, said she'd like to see capacity restrictions lifted.
"It would be great — business would be coming back," she said.
While vaccination rates are increasing, some people are mindful of the governor's claim that Colorado is experiencing a fourth COVID-19 surge.
"I won't take my family out," said one woman who asked to remain anonymous. "I have children and don't want them exposed."
But others say it's time to open up capacity.
"I don't think it's too early," Ashley Swindall said. "It's been a year. It needs to be done. I lived in Texas for most of last year and Texas seems to be doing great now that they're open."
Richard Saucedo said he thinks opening up 100% is a good thing. He said he doesn't believe it's too early to reopen.
Douglas said he hears both sides.
"I hear those questions: Are we moving too fast? And frankly, I hear even more loudly, 'Are we moving too slow?'" he said.
Douglas said Tri-County is in the "Goldilocks" spot between too fast and too slow.
At Bravo, Lombardi's mom, Dolores, said they're ready for the bump back up to 100%.
"Yes, we are, we are ready to go," she said.
Douglas said he wants everyone to consider getting the vaccine.
"I want them to think hard about how much benefit the vaccines provide, and how little risk they cause," he said. "The more people get vaccinated, the more they'll get personal safety."
He said it's a race between getting vaccinated and beating the variants that are spreading through the population.