Colorado’s revised COVID-19 alert dial that allowed most counties in the state to move to the less- stringent “yellow” category didn’t include Mesa County, but it soon will.
The head of the Mesa County Public Health Department told county commissioners at their regular meeting Monday that change could be coming soon, perhaps even by today, Jeff Kuhr said.
He said that based on the new criteria that determines where a county sits on the dial, and because of reported infection rates over a seven-day period rather than a two-week one, the county qualifies to move to “yellow.”
As of Friday, the county dropped below 300 cases with less than 7.5% positivity rate, putting it just under the “orange” alert level and into “yellow,” though that’s not yet officially been recognized by the state.
Kuhr said it all could be much better if the county could get more doses of the vaccine, which continues to be a problem.
While he said he expects to open the vaccine to allow people 65 and older to register to receive it starting this week, something called for under the new dial, he’s still focused on ensuring that more people over the age of 70 have gotten vaccinated.
Currently, he believes that about 45% of the county’s over-70 population has received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
Still, he’s having issues when his office can schedule more vaccine appointments, in part because of the way the state lets counties know how many doses they can expect week to week.
“We have to order on Thursday for the next week, and we don’t know what that’s going to be until Friday,” he said. “We can’t get out vaccines in three days (as the state recommends) so we’re a week behind. We can’t schedule (people to get the vaccine) because the state is so undependable.”
Kuhr said that as of Monday morning, the county had given out 11,416 doses and received more than 17,000 of them.
He said his department is set to receive 400 more doses this week, adding that’s not the total number of vaccines that are actually coming into the county.
The state also is sending doses to area pharmacies and health care providers, but doesn’t tell county health officials what that amount is, another source of consternation for Kuhr.
“We don’t know also from the state who’s received what at the various points of dispensing,” Kuhr said. “So the pharmacists and primary care facilities that are now involved, we don’t know (how many doses they are getting).”
That’s important, Kuhr says, because not knowing who is receiving the vaccine makes scheduling appointments harder.
“We’re scheduling a phone call with the state because we want to know why is this?” he said. “We’re sitting on the vaccine for the next week; we cannot schedule. We can’t do it any other way. We cannot schedule the next week based on a Thursday order. It makes no sense.”
Under the revised state dial, the “yellow” alert level means that schools and colleges can go to in-person learning if they haven’t already, or a hybrid if they choose; restaurants can have as many as 150 patrons, as long as they maintain social distancing; and offices, gyms, fitness centers, manufacturing, retail stores, indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, and personal services can go to 50% capacity.
For some — personal services, health care facilities and indoor entertainment venues — that capacity is limited to 50 people, while others — restaurants and outdoor entertainment — can go to 175.
Those levels, of course, are still based on maintaining a 6-foot spacing between patrons.
But when the county officially goes to the “yellow” category, those in the county’s Five Star Program, which requires them to have strict face mask rules and social distancing requirements, essentially would be considered to be in the even less restrictive “blue” level on the COVID dial.
For them, capacity levels would remain at 50%, but that means they can have as many as 250 people for such things as indoor and outdoor entertainment. For restaurants in that program, last-call rules would move from 11 p.m. to midnight. Under the “orange” level, they are required to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. for on-premise consumption.
Because of changes to the new dial, area counties are already in better positions than Mesa.
Garfield, Delta, Montrose and Rio Blanco counties are already in the “yellow” category, while Moffat is in “blue.” While several mountain resort counties in the state are still in “orange,” much of the rest of the state, including the Denver metropolitan area, are in “yellow” or “blue.”