covid dial

Pitkin County will officially tilt into the orange high-risk level on the state’s COVID-19 dial beginning Thursday at 5 p.m.

According to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment informed county officials of the forthcoming change Tuesday afternoon, following conflicting reports of when the shift would actually occur.

Still, thanks to changes announced by CDPHE Tuesday, that level is farther from the dreaded stay-at-home orders than it would have been. Rather, instead of that red zone meaning another round of shutdowns, the state has added purple as the final indicator in its public-health spectrum.

Previously, the state’s COVID-19 dial included five color-coded levels: green (Protect Our Neighbors), blue (Safer-At-Home: Cautious), yellow (Safer-At-Home: Concern), orange (Safer-At-Home: High Risk) and red (Stay At Home). Now, however, the addition of the new purple “extreme risk” level to the COVID-19 dial is the one that would require individuals to stay at home. 

The orange high-risk level requires restaurants, offices, places of worship, personal services and gyms to operate at 25% capacity. Last call for restaurants would be at 10 p.m., an hour earlier than current standards. Retail businesses, both critical and non, may operate at 50% capacity under the new restrictions.

That’s still less restrictive than that “new” red zone, which sunsets last call at 8 p.m. for restaurants, which will only be able to serve on premise in outdoor capacities to groups within one household. Otherwise, they will be limited to take-out, curbside or delivery. Should the county reach the newly created purple level, no outdoor dining would be permitted.

The Pitkin County Board of Health will meet Thursday afternoon — just hours before the new restrictions take effect — to decide whether to implement additional restrictive measures on top of those already mandated by the state. Peacock explained that the health board essentially had three options to consider this Thursday.

“The board of health could choose to stay at that [orange high-risk] level of restriction and see if our numbers move,” Peacock said of one option. “The board of health could choose to partner with the state and go in, voluntarily, to the red level … and its associated restrictions.”

According to Peacock, if the county moved into the “severe-risk” red level on its own accord, it would remain there for 30 days. Following its 30-day period in the red level, CDPHE would re-evaluate the county’s metrics and adjust its position on the COVID-19 dial accordingly.

Counties move from one level to another on the state’s COVID-19 dial based on three metrics: new cases, percent-positivity rate and local hospitalizations. 

“The third option is for us to look at our own public health order,” Peacock said. “Anything we do in our public health order would have to be more restrictive than what’s required in the level orange but could be less restrictive than what’s in red.”

“I’m not going to consider, you know, impacting people’s economic survivability without good science behind it,” Patti Clapper, Pitkin County commissioner, said.

Clapper serves as an alternate on the Pitkin County Board of Health. 

Greg Poschman, who also serves on the health board, echoed Clapper’s concerns.

“I think the best thing we can possibly do is figure out how we can … keep the restaurants in business to some extent so they can actually feed people,” Commissioner Poschman said. “If our hotels are available for 100%, something just doesn’t make sense to me. There’s opportunities to gather in a hotel.”

The purpose of the addition of the purple level to the COVID-19 dial is to allow counties to avoid a full stay-at-home order but still imposes more stringent restrictions than those of the high-risk level Pitkin County will move into Thursday.

“We have the highest numbers we have had through the entire pandemic,” Kelly McNicholas Kurry, Pitkin County commissioner, said. “The seriousness of this, I hope, is not being underestimated by anybody. I do not want it to be underestimated by us.”

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com