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Feeling blue? Seeing red? Here's what the levels on Colorado's adjusted COVID-19 'dial' mean

Erin Udell
Fort Collins Coloradoan

Update: On Feb. 5, Gov. Jared Polis and state health department Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan released new metrics that will allow more counties to move into less-restrictive levels and make it easier for counties to move between restriction levels.

Looking at metrics in a 7-day timeframe rather than a 14-day timeframe — as the state did in the previous dial system — will allow counties to move into new levels more quickly, Ryan said.

The new dial metrics went into effect Feb. 6. This story has been updated to reflect these new dial changes.

The parameters of Colorado's COVID-19 dial shifted Saturday, marking changes for many Colorado counties.

Instead of following a 14-day timeframe, the state is now tracking county's COVID-19 metrics on a 7-day basis.

Fort Collins-area news: Move to Level Yellow, plastic bags, CSU volleyball, PSD Virtual

Here are the levels on Colorado's new COVID-19 dial framework:

Level Green: Protect your neighbors

To apply for certification as Level Green, a county or region must have sufficient hospital bed capacity to manage a 20% surge in hospital admissions or patient transfers. Its local hospitals must have a two-week supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) based on current PPE use standards. The county or region must also be seeing stable (no greater than a 25% increase) or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations in the previous two weeks. It must have 25 or fewer new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks, no more than seven new cases for communities with less than 30,000 residents or a two-week positivity rate of less than 5% while the county meets its minimum testing rate.

Under Level Green:

  • Residents in high-risk populations are asked to use caution when out in the community.
  • Personal gatherings are allowed if they follow local guidance in your county.
  • Schools are open and learning is in-person.
  • Restaurants with indoor dining, gyms, noncritical manufacturing businesses, group sports, personal services businesses, and indoor or outdoor entertainment events can operate at 50% capacity or serve up to 500 people.
  • Retail businesses and offices can operate at 50% capacity.
  • Outdoor dining can be held with 6 feet social-distancing rules between parties, per local zoning rules.
  • Counties on this level are eligible for both indoor and outdoor site-specific variances.

Level Blue: Caution

In Level Blue, counties are reporting between 15 and 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period. Their two-week positivity rate must be no greater than 5%. While exact hospitalization metrics are not spelled out in Level Blue through Level Red, if COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable or decrease, those numbers are used to determine if a locality may remain at its current level or move to a less restrictive level, according to the state health department. Increased hospitalizations indicate a county may need to move to a more restrictive level until those numbers improve.

Under Level Blue: 

  • Personal gatherings are allowed if they are made up of less than 10 people from no more than two different households.
  • Restaurants with indoor dining, along with noncritical manufacturing businesses, gyms and indoor entertainment events can operate at 50% capacity with a cap of 175 people.
  • Bars are closed, and last call for on-premise alcohol at other establishments is midnight.
  • Personal services businesses (like spas, hair salons and tattoo shops, among others) and limited health care settings must operate at 50% capacity, with a cap of 50 people.
  • Outdoor entertainment events must operate at 50% capacity, with a limit of 250 people.
  • Group sports and sports camps are limited to 50 people per activity.

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Level Yellow: Concern

In Level Yellow, counties or regions are reporting between 100 and 300 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period, the 14-day average positivity rate must be no greater than 7.5%. While exact hospitalization metrics are not spelled out in Level Blue through Level Red, if COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable or decrease, those numbers are used to determine if a locality may remain at its current level or move to a less restrictive level, according to the state health department. Increased hospitalizations indicate a county may need to move to a more restrictive level until those numbers improve.

Under Level Yellow:

  • Coloradans in high-risk populations are advised to stay home.
  • While in-person learning is suggested, schools can move to hybrid or remote learning as appropriate. 
  • Restaurants with indoor dining can operate at 50% capacity with a cap of 150 diners while socially distanced.
  • Outdoor entertainment events must operate at 50%, with a cap of 175 people.
  • Indoor unseated entertainment events are limited to 50% capacity with a cap of 30 people. Indoor seated events are limited to 50% capacity with a 100-person cap.
  • Bars are closed. Last call for on-premise alcohol is 11 p.m. 
  • Offices are strongly encouraged to move to remote operations. 
  • Gyms, personal services, limited health care settings and indoor unseated entertainment events must operate at 50% capacity, with a cap of 50 people.
  • Group sports and sports camps are limited to 25 people per activity.
  • Counties at this level are no longer eligible for indoor site-specific variances from the state (only outdoor site-specific variances).

Level Orange: High risk

If moved to Level Orange, counties or regions are experiencing new COVID-19 cases at a rate between 300 and 500 per 100,000 people in a seven-day period. The county or region's average positivity rate is no greater than 10%. While exact hospitalization metrics are not spelled out in Level Blue through Level Red, if COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable or decrease, those numbers are used to determine if a locality may remain at its current level or move to a less restrictive level, according to the state health department. Increased hospitalizations indicate a county may need to move to a more restrictive level until those numbers improve.

Under Level Orange:

  • Coloradans in high-risk populations are strongly advised to stay home.
  • Counties at this level are not eligible to apply for any new variances from the state.
  • Restaurants with indoor dining, along noncritical manufacturing businesses, gyms and indoor entertainment events can operate at 25% capacity with a cap of 50 people while socially distanced.
  • In-person learning in schools is still suggested. Schools are asked to suspend extracurricular and recreational activities to stem the spread of COVID-19 and minimize disruptions to in-person learning.  
  • Bars are closed. Last call for alcohol is 10 p.m. 
  • Offices must operate at 25% capacity, and remote work is still strongly encouraged. 
  • Personal services businesses and limited health care settings must operate at 25% capacity, with a cap of 25 people indoors. Outdoor exercise at gyms is limited to groups of less than 10. 
  • Outdoor entertainment events are limited to 25% capacity with a cap of 75 people.
  • Group sports and sports camps can operate outdoors in groups of less than 10. 
  • Retail businesses remain at 50% capacity with increased curbside pickup and delivery service as well as dedicated hours for senior and at-risk individuals.

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Level Red: Severe risk

If a county or region reaches Level Red, that means they're seeing new COVID-19 cases at an incidence rate of more than 501 per 100,000 people in a seven-day period. The positivity rate over the past 14 days is 10%. While exact hospitalization metrics are not spelled out in Level Blue through Level Red, if COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable or decrease, those numbers are used to determine if a locality may remain at its current level or move to a less restrictive level, according to the state health department. Increased hospitalizations indicate a county may need to move to a more restrictive level until those numbers improve.

Under Level Red:

  • Coloradans in high-risk populations should stay home. 
  • Personal gatherings are not allowed, regardless of size.
  • In-person learning for preschool through fifth grade is suggested; middle schools can do in-person, hybrid or remote learning; and high schools are encouraged to do a hybrid or remote learning model; colleges and universities are encouraged to limit in-person instruction and move to remote learning.
  • Restaurants must close to indoor dining. Takeout, curbside and delivery services are still allowed. Open air outdoor dining at restaurants is still allowed, but only for parties from the same household.
  • Bars are closed. Last call for alcohol is 8 p.m.
  • Offices must operate at 10% capacity.
  • Gyms can operate at 10% capacity with a cap of 10 people exercising indoors and outdoor group exercise capped at nine participants.
  • Counties at this level are not eligible to apply for any new variances from the state, and any existing variances your county has will be reevaluated.
  • Outdoor events must be limited to 25% capacity or a limit of 75 people. Indoor entertainment events are canceled, with the exception of museums, aquariums and zoos.

Level Purple: Extreme risk

When a county or region is moved to Level Purple, its hospital capacity risks are being breached and "crisis standards of care" are approaching.

Under Level Purple:

  • Coloradans in high-risk populations are ordered to stay home. 
  • Schools should stay in-person or move to hybrid or remote learning as appropriate.
  • Indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants is closed; takeout, curbside and delivery services are still allowed.
  • On-premise alcohol services are no longer allowed at restaurants and other establishments. 
  • Offices, gyms, personal services and group sports or sports camps must close or switch to full virtual offerings. Gyms can host outdoor exercise in groups of less than 10 people.
  • Noncritical manufacturing businesses can operate at 10% capacity or a cap of 25 people.
  • Outdoor and indoor entertainment events are no longer allowed.
  • Noncritical retail businesses must close to in-person shopping; curbside, pick-up and delivery services are still allowed. Critical retail businesses can operate at 50% capacity.
  • Limited health care settings must operate at 10% capacity with a cap of 25 people.
  • Counties at this level are not eligible to apply for any new variances from the state, and any existing variances your county has will be revoked unless "specifically allowed," according to state guidance.
Colorado's COVID-19 dial system, effective Nov. 20, 2020.

Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.