Tri-County Health talks how summer events will look amid virus

Arapahoe not moving to yellow despite uptick in new cases; health agency extends dial


As the whirlwind of changes to public health restrictions in the Denver metro area continues, residents may be wondering what it all means for summer events and gatherings as public health officials try to ward off a potential fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado.

The Tri-County Health Department — the local public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — discussed how summer activities may look during an April 8 virtual town hall put on in partnership with Arapahoe County.

“We’re really looking forward to things like the county fair and small events,” said Mellissa Sager, an official with Tri-County Health Department.

The state’s color-coded COVID-19 dial is the set of restrictions counties must follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affects capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial on Sept. 15.

The latest changes to Colorado’s system of restrictions — dubbed “dial 3.0” — took effect on March 24, moving many counties across the state to the least restrictive stage, level green. The update also relaxed restrictions for certain businesses in other counties.

Dial 3.0 will remain in effect until mid-April, at which point the state plans to retire the dial and give local public health agencies greater control over what restrictions to enforce. The Tri-County Health Department’s board of health voted to extend a modified version of the state’s dial system for one month during an April 8 meeting.

As Coloradans look to the summer, though, public health officials are likely to keep urging events to take place outside.

“We know that outdoors are significantly safer than indoors, and as our local governments and community organizations plan for this summer, they’re keeping that in mind,” said Sager, Tri-County Health’s policy and intergovernmental affairs manager. “We’re working with (Arapahoe) County on the county fair, (and) we’re working with South Metro Fire on their fire muster this summer.” That’s an annual fire truck parade and firefighting demonstration event that takes place in Littleton.

Many summer activities may still look a little different than usual, Sager said, considering how to keep people at a safe distance. Tri-County officials think events with food vendors and local artists, for example, can happen safely, Sager added.

Tri-County recently amended its mask-wearing order to remove the requirement that masks be worn in outdoor public spaces, the agency announced in an April 5 news release.

But if residents will be in close contact for a long period of time, such as at a crowded trailhead, masks may still be a good idea, Sager said.

A caller during the town hall asked whether swimming pools should open, and Sager responded that “we’re excited to have our pools open” and that they’re “much safer than those indoor activities.”

It’s possible that many previous public health guidelines such as cleanings and reservations wouldn’t be strictly required after the state’s requirements fade away on April 16, Sager said. But at a large community pool, rules may be different, she added.

Washing hands, staying home when sick and getting tested are still important tools to prevent the pandemic from rebounding, according to Sager.

Variants and ‘fourth wave’ fears

Officials have recently seen increases in coronavirus cases in Arapahoe County and the state as a whole, John Douglas, Tri-County Health’s director, said during the town hall.

He hears people wondering about a “fourth wave” of the virus, following the surges last spring, a smaller one in summer and the larger one in late fall and winter.

“I would have to say that is a possibility but not a likelihood,” Douglas said, mentioning the “race between vaccine and variants.”

Added Douglas: “These variants are coming at us almost like alphabet soup.” He’s got his eye on the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, spreading in Colorado.

“It’s concerning because it’s the one that set our friends in the UK on their heels back in the (winter),” Douglas said, noting that France recently had to enter a third lockdown. The UK variant appears to be more contagious and seems to be more severe, he added.

Changes to the dial, mask order

After the state's dial is removed, Tri-County's order would move its counties to one level lower on the dial, loosening restrictions. The exception is Arapahoe County, which was in level blue as of April 12 but had virus metrics — such as rate of new cases — that sat above the limit for level blue based on the state's dial system. Arapahoe will remain in blue if its state dial metrics still reflect level yellow, which is one level stricter, on April 16, according to Tri-County.

Adams and Douglas counties were in level yellow as of April 12 and could move down to blue.

Those changes would continue until May 15, according to the order. At that point, as long as there isn't another surge in hospitalized cases, those counties would lose all restrictions and go into an observational period.

The Tri-County Health Department also announced its mask order is expected to remain in place until June 30, adding what may be a definite end to the requirement. Previously, the agency had extended its order “for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an Oct. 20 news release.


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