As of early March, Colorado’s COVID-19 restrictions limited Arapahoe County to 50% capacity or up to 250 people “per designated activity or area” for outdoor unseated events.
Those were the restrictions for counties in level blue on the state’s color-coded COVID-19 dial, the set of restrictions counties must follow based on the local spread of the virus.
But as of March 24, with the arrival of Colorado’s “dial 3.0” policy, outdoor events in level blue counties no longer have state capacity restrictions. What’s more, by mid-April, the state plans to retire the dial and implement a new public health order that gives local public health agencies, such as Tri-County Health Department, greater control over restrictions.
Tri-County Health is the local public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
It wasn’t clear from a March 22 Englewood City Council discussion what limitations Tri-County Health would enforce past mid-April. Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of early March still urged people to avoid large events and gatherings when possible.
In recent weeks, Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations appear to have plateaued — and possibly begun to rise — after months of decline. Arapahoe County’s rate of new cases had ticked up near levels that could threaten its level blue status as of late March.
As Colorado's coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue on a plateau that shows signs of rising again, the City of Englewood plans to hold a July 4 fireworks show where an estimated 20,000-plus people gathered in 2019 — the last time the show was held before the pandemic.
In a 4-3 split decision, the Englewood City Council directed city staff to go forward with the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration, a regional draw that takes place at Cornerstone and Belleview parks near the Englewood-Littleton border.
Fewer area municipalites are scheduling open fireworks shows this year, according to a city staff report.
Councilmember Dave Cuesta, one of the four who supported holding the gathering, alluded to how well-known the fireworks are outside of Englewood.
“I think they're one of the highlights of the City of Englewood and really an event that people throughout the metro area associate with us,” Cuesta said during a March 22 council special meeting.
He also touched on a potential drawback of the popularity: the possibility that Englewood may be one of the few municipalities that goes forward with a July 4 fireworks event this year, inadvertently becoming “the main attraction for almost all the metro area,” Cuesta said.
That's a risky scenario taking the virus into account, said Mellissa Sager, the policy and intergovernmental affairs manager for the Tri-County Health Department. That's the public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Health officials have concerns about possible spread of COVID-19 variants, Sager said, that could risk reversing the downward trend of infections.
Sager talked about the unpredictability of what public health restrictions might look like by July 4, given the variants and whether virus spread might increase.
Around metro Denver, large July 4 fireworks gatherings will likely be a rare occurrence this year. Lakewood and Highlands Ranch plan to offer fireworks with no crowd in attendance, according to a report by Englewood city staff.
Westminster and Fort Collins are “not holding any type of event for the holiday,” the report says.
Parker may be the exception, planning to host a fireworks show with “limited” attendance, the report says. Registration would be required, and contact tracing could be done, according to the report.
The document doesn't mention whether Denver or Aurora have plans for events.
At the March 22 meeting, Englewood councilmembers discussed whether they should hold the city's usual fireworks event, not hold any event at all, or put on a smaller celebration that could take place at “City Center Circle” — likely in front of city hall — around the fountain and amphitheater area, according to the report.
Council also considered the possibility of holding other events in the summer such as concerts, drive-in movies or movie showings in parks. If Englewood chose to forgo the fireworks show, the “huge savings” would enable those other activities, said Christina Underhill, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Library Department.
The fireworks event would cost Englewood about $47,000, with another $28,000 paid by Sheridan, Littleton, Arapahoe County, and South Suburban Parks and Recreation, according to the report.
Councilmember Joe Anderson, the most vocal proponent of holding the traditional fireworks event, felt that canceling the show would amount to telling people not to “celebrate their basic liberties.”
“In a free country, we don't need permissions or government allowance to celebrate our freedoms — in fact, I think that if we don't celebrate our freedoms, even the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, over time, we're going to lose those freedoms,” Anderson said.
Ultimately, Councilmembers Steve Ward, Rita Russell, Anderson and Cuesta supported holding the usual fireworks event.
Mayor Linda Olson spoke against the decision to hold the fireworks gathering, arguing that the public can participate in other ways and still celebrate the holiday.
“I think this is a very foolish public health decision based on really unreasonable thinking around (the) public and what a celebration of the Fourth is supposed to have,” Olson said.
Officials expressed some concern about whether Englewood could place an order for fireworks that would arrive as usual, but a city spokeswoman on March 26 confirmed that Englewood was able to order fireworks and that they will be available for the Fourth of July event.
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