County COVID controls controlled by changing criteria


DENVER (KDVR) — There is more than meets the eye when it comes to considerations for when county and state leaders decide which counties have certain restrictions.

Arapahoe, Adams, Las Animas, Archuleta, Broomfield, Denver, Fremont, Larimer and Teller counties are all within a few days of their two-week incidence rate falling to Level Orange levels. Clear Creak, Moffat, Pueblo, Washington, Park, Elbert and Gilpin counties are a similar distance away from their two-week incidence rate reaching Level Yellow.

That is, if health officials actually make the call. There is evidence that restriction levels are not following their respective stats.

During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis mentioned that the state will introduce a new, improved COVID dial in the next few months. After most of the 65 and older age group are vaccinated, the state will do an even bigger revamp of the restrictions system.

This is timely.

The COVID dial uses three metrics to decide what level of restriction a county should have: two-week incidence (which measures how many cases per 100,000), two-week positivity rate (which measures what percentage of COVID tests come back positive) and the number of days that county has had decreasing or stable hospitalizations.

Each of these metrics has ranges that qualify for a certain level of restrictions. Some counties will have one of the three metrics in one restriction range but the other two in a different range. Adams County, for example, has a two-week incidence at Level Red but the other two metrics at Level Yellow.

This graph shows each county (left column), its overall restriction level, the level of its two-week incidence rate, the level of its two-week positivity rate and the level of its hospital status.

The restriction levels often do not match other counties or their own metrics.

Several counties are still in Level Orange restrictions even though each of their COVID dial metrics are well into Level Green ranges.

San Juan and Mineral counties both have had fewer than eight COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks, have a scant 1.3% test positivity rate and experienced zero hospitalizations in the last two weeks.

Despite this, they both remain on the Level Orange restrictions.

Other counties have a combination of Level Yellow and Level Green metrics but remain at Level Orange.

On the opposite end, some counties that are listed in higher restriction metrics have lower overall restriction levels.

Both Baca and Routt counties have the same metrics as Pitkin County – a two-week positivity and hospitalization status both firmly in Level Yellow but a two-week incidence rate in the Level Red.

Yet only Pitkin County has Level Red restrictions, while Gunnison County has the sixth-highest two-week incidence in the state right now and has somehow managed Level Yellow restrictions.

Gunnison County is one of only three counties at Level Yellow, alongside Jackson and Saguache counties and the Level Blue Hinsdale County. The rest are Level Orange except for Pitkin County, which is Level Red in the face of skyrocketing case totals in recent weeks.

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