First few counties move to "protect our neighbors" phase


Only three of Colorado's 64 counties have been approved for the state's third overall phase of social distancing policy, called “protect our neighbors,” as of Sept. 10.

Those are Gilpin, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties, all approved Sept. 8 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Based on the rate of new cases in Denver metro area counties, it appears that moving to the “protect our neighbors” phase still may be months away for Denver-area localities.

The “protect our neighbors” phase allows for virtually all activities at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity with at least 6 feet between non-household members and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time, according to the state's COVID-19 website.

Starting the week of July 6, communities could apply to move to that level, according to the website.

To qualify, among other benchmarks, counties must meet the following standards:

• Capacity to manage a 20% surge in hospital admissions or patient transfers.

• Stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, stable meaning no greater than a 25% increase — or declining counts of new confirmed hospitalizations in the last 14 days or no more than two new admissions on a single day in the last 14 days.

• Capacity to test 15 people per 10,000 residents per day.

• The ability to conduct contact tracing for at least 85% of assigned cases within 24 hours.

• Strategies to offer testing to close contacts of outbreak-associated cases.

• Fewer new cases, meaning 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people, or seven or fewer cases for a county or jurisdiction with a population of less than 30,000 (both scenarios apply to the last two weeks and exclude cases among residents of congregate facilities experiencing outbreaks); or a two-week average test positivity rate of less than 5% and the county is meeting a minimum testing rate (0.75 per 1,000 population).

The state was to make federal CARES Act funding available to help counties achieve the “protect our neighbors” phase.


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