After being one of the first communities to get a variance approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment back on May 22, Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr said he’s content to keep the county restrictions where they are.

“Positivity rate is at 2.6% right now. We want to see it level off before we go to next steps,” he said.

Percent positivity, an estimate based on diagnostic testing for COVID-19, is a key indicator for health officials in determining the virus spread.

Under the current guidelines, the county’s positivity rate cannot exceed 15%.

Since Mesa County’s request was approved, the state has opened up variances for its third phase of reopening, “Protect Our Neighbors.” In order to qualify, eight metrics need to be met within a county, including: sufficient hospital bed capacity, sufficient PPE supply, stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, fewer new cases, sufficient testing capacity, ability to implement case investigation and contact tracing protocol, documented surge-capacity plan for case investigation and contact tracing and documented strategies to offer testing to close contacts.

When he announced a mandatory mask order across the state earlier this month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also put a two-week moratorium on granting new variances on statewide public health orders. That moratorium is set to expire today.

Still, Kuhr does not think he will be applying for another variance anytime soon. He said with District 51 and Colorado Mesa University students set to go back to class in a few weeks, he wants to see how school reopenings go before making his next request to the state.

“Our ceiling would be 5% positivity at the next level,” he said.

He said he felt much more comfortable with 5% than the state’s 15% variance level.

At 2.6% now, Kuhr would like to see the positivity rate stabilize at around 1.5% and 2%, rather than the over 2% that it’s been for the past couple of weeks.

He said the numbers are derived from a rolling 14 days, so it will take several consecutive low case days for the percentage to drop.

With recent spikes reported, several counties across the state were close to losing variances earlier this month.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sent notices to counties warning that they were close to losing their variances, including Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield, the Denver Post reported.

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