With cases and hospitalizations rising, and the state shifting toward letting counties take more of the lead on the response to the coronavirus, Colorado has now changed the way it classifies the seriousness of the pandemic.
In the biggest change, a new public health order released Monday evening makes clear that local public health and school district officials will decide whether students should attend in-person classes or virtual lessons online.
“This clarifies that local districts are able to make determinations on how to structure the format of education based on local factors,” the state health department said in a release accompanying the new order.
The new rules also declutter the five-step, color-coded matrix classifying the severity of the outbreak in different counties. Instead of having three different levels of “Safer at Home” status, the dial will now classify local conditions simply as green, blue, yellow, orange or red.
“We are at a pivotal juncture. We need to change course in November to prevent more Coloradans from getting severely sick,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a release that accompanied the new order. “We need everyone to fully participate in mitigation tactics — like wearing a mask, distancing a minimum of six feet from others, and not interacting with other households — if we are to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in advance of the holiday season.”
Gov. Jared Polis has gradually given local public health officials greater leeway to set the rules for their areas, using guidance from the state, rather than issuing statewide orders. In an interview with The Denver Post Monday, Polis said he prefers a regional approach to the virus, which can be widespread in urban areas even while having little impact in rural parts of the state.
That has been particularly true in the approach to reopening schools after Polis issued an order in the Spring shutting down in-person attendance statewide. Now, each district is making decisions in consultation with local public health agencies but overseen by state guidelines.
The state is now in a “third wave” of COVID-19, with rising case numbers, positivity rates, hospitalizations and, now, deaths occurring in both urban and rural parts of the state.