Colorado businesses that refuse to comply with restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 could lose their licenses, even if their county has declined to enforce the rules, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday afternoon.
Statewide, 22 counties are in Level Red on the state’s dial framework, including most of the Front Range. In Level Red, most businesses can only operate at 25% of capacity; gyms and offices are limited to 10%; indoor dining is prohibited; and restaurants with outdoor seating can’t serve alcohol after 8 p.m.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can suspend or revoke the licenses of restaurants that don’t take steps to avoid spreading diseases like salmonella, Polis said, and the department can enforce compliance with COVID-19 restrictions the same way.
Weld County commissioners said Friday that they wouldn’t enforce the Level Red restrictions. Three intensive-care beds were available in Weld County on Tuesday, though some additional beds were available in surrounding areas.
A group of Larimer County business owners also announced Tuesday morning that they would ignore new restrictions after their county moved to Level Red, instead continuing to operate at Level Yellow. In Level Yellow, most businesses can operate at 50% of capacity.
Larimer County Public Health didn’t respond to a request for comment about the businesses’ statement.
The participating businesses said in a news release that county businesses could operate safely at their previous level of restrictions, using incorrect statistics about deaths and the percentage of tests that are positive. As of Tuesday morning, Larimer had about 890 new cases for every 100,000 people, and 12.3% of tests were positive, indicating that infections are going undetected. Since the pandemic began, 66 people in the county have died — twice as many as the businesses claim.
“As small business owners we employ thousands of residents in Loveland whose health you are jeopardizing by forcing them into unnecessary unemployment,” said a letter signed by the business owners.
While new cases appear to have stabilized in the last few days, an estimated one in every 41 Coloradans is now contagious with the virus, Polis said in his Tuesday afternoon press conference. Hospitalizations have continued to increase, and more than one-third of hospitals report they are shortstaffed.
Current projections show Colorado exceeding its intensive-care capacity in mid-January, though the breaking point could come sooner if the virus’ spread accelerates again, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said. If the state stays on its current trajectory, about 3,800 additional people could die of COVID-19 by the end of the year, she said, while 2,100 are projected to die if the public follows the guidelines rigorously, because so many have already been infected.
Cell phone location data shows Coloradans are spending more time at home in the last week or two, indicating some changes in behavior as the epidemic’s trajectory has grown more alarming, said Jude Bayham, an assistant professor at Colorado State University. The effect is more pronounced in counties with more restrictions, where visits to businesses like restaurants are dropping, he said.
It’s too early to be sure if the lower cases in recent days are a sustained trend, Herlihy said, but even if they are, it’s still important to avoid gatherings with people who don’t live with you and to wear a mask and stay six feet from others when you leave home.
“Gathering only with your own household for Thanksgiving is really an important strategy,” she said.