The state has denied Montrose County’s bid to increase indoor gatherings to 175 and to lift the limit on the numbers who may attend outdoor gatherings. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did, however, grant the other requests made in the county’s second application for a variance to the governor’s “safer at home” COVID-19 public health restrictions — including a provision that would allow parades and fairs.
The county’s second variance application sought approval for opening businesses (including manufacturing, funeral homes, offices and theaters), gyms and houses of worship at 75% of occupancy under fire code, for a max of 175 people. Under the first ordinance granted, the limit is 50% of the posted occupancy code, not to exceed 50 people.
As well, the application for second variance sought to increase classroom size and to allow bars, microbreweries and distilleries to open at a max of 50 people. The county also wanted to allow outdoor gatherings without size limits, but with safety protocols in place, and to allow pools to reopen at full capacity.
The CDPHE partially approved the application June 26, by which time other public health orders had been issued, allowing for more sectors of society to open up.
“In most instances, the application seeks to expand opening beyond the 50% occupancy limit contained in the variance framework, in addition to expanding many indoor settings to 100 people,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, agency executive director, wrote in the partial approval.
The CDPHE evaluates the prevalence of COVID-19 in making variance decisions.
Montrose County was placed in the “medium” variance category, having reported 197 cases, with 19 in the last two weeks, according to the CDPHE’s letter. Montrose County’s own count was 181 confirmed as of June 25. (Reports and consideration exclude cases among residents of facilities experiencing “outbreaks,” which are defined as two or more positive cases.)
Indoor and outdoor event capacity to the extent the county requested exceeded that which is allowed for medium-variance counties — 100 people indoors and 175 outdoors — the approval letter says.
With respect to gathering size limits, the county is in a holding pattern for now, as an updated public health order is said to be forthcoming.
“We’re waiting to see what the governor’s protect your neighbor order is. We’ll see what that looks like,” Montrose County Commissioner Sue Hansen said Monday.
“Depending on that, we’ll look at maybe another variance application we’ll combine with Mesa and Delta counties. We thought it would be kind of silly, since we didn’t know what the protect your neighbor order would be, to write the variance if — miraculously — it (the order) was going to be more liberal than what we were going to ask for.”
Under the partial variance recently granted, Montrose County can allow sporting tournaments and events, provided guidelines for personal recreation are followed.
Also allowed are rodeos, fairs, festivals, parades, and car, motorcycle and horse races, if held in accordance with requirements for outdoor events.
Crowd size restrictions remain in place.
The Montrose County Fair Board previously decided to focus on junior livestock shows for this year’s fair, and to preclude exhibits, as well as entertainment that draws crowds.
Like county commissioners, the fair board is waiting for more clarity from forthcoming updates to the public health orders, board president Chris Cohick said.
The board is discussing what it might be able to allow, and expects to have more clarity in the second week of July.
“These orders are getting so confusing and changing so often, it is hard to stay ahead,” Hansen said.
Officials are responding by continuing steps like mask-use and social distancing.
“It’s just hard to keep up with the nuances of this. We’re just trying to be as logical as possible with these orders,” she said.
For the county’s second variance, bars have to follow restaurant requirements, but do not have to serve food in order to open.
Indoor event requirements are to be consistent with the requirements finalized June 18. Also finalized June 18 was guidance for personal services that require removal of face coverings; the county’s second variance is also subject to following these provisions.
Health care providers must still wear medical masks when providing services.
Summer camps and residential camps that were authorized to open June 18 remain limited to 10 participants if indoors and 25 if outdoors.
For counties in which the status of viral spread is designated as “medium,” the threshold is 50 cases or fewer, per 100,000 in the previous two weeks, and stable or declining average hospitalizations.
(Again, this excludes residents in facilities where there are outbreaks.)
For counties with high testing rates, like Montrose, a two-week average positivity rate of less than 10 percent can be considered in lieu of the two-week incidence data.
Montrose has a 3.6-percent positivity rate, the CPDHE approval letter said.
If the county experiences 22 or more cases in a two-week period (excluding residents at outbreak sites), it must notify the CDPHE and implement a mitigation plan for two weeks to restore virus transmission levels to the baseline under which the variance was approved.
If that does not work, the capacity limits will be adjusted. The CDPHE can change or rescind the variance as warranted.
“I appreciate your thoughtful approach to these challenging issues and wish you all the best in your continuing efforts to ensure that Montrose County residents are safe and healthy as we all deal with this global pandemic,” Hunsaker Ryan wrote.