Why some Colorado counties are more open than others

DENVER (KDVR) — What people can do in one county in Colorado, they can’t in another. And it’s all because of the variances the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment approves.

As of Thursday, 48 of Colorado’s 64 counties have applied for variances to the Safer at Home order. CDPHE has granted 15 variances.

One of the first went to Mesa County. It allowed restaurants and gyms to open at 30 percent capacity, among other things.

“You’re always fearful going into this,” said Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr. “Well, give them an inch….are they going to take a mile? I’m going to say for the most part, that hasn’t happened. It’s been great.”

Kuhr said people in the county are taking advantage of the relaxed restrictions by going out to eat, shopping at local stores and working out at the gym. They have to follow a number of rules, including social distancing and covering their face.

“The basis for my public health agency is really assessment and surveillance,” Kuhr said. “We’re focused on epidemiology. And we completely have the capacity to control the spread if anything were to happen.”

One of the reasons CDPHE granted Mesa County the variance is because, to date, it has just 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19. It also has plenty of hospital capacity in case that number increases and does not have outbreaks at long-term care facilities or jails.

Eagle County also received an early variance. Now, it and Mesa County are hoping to receive more variances to allow their local economies to open further.

Denver, El Paso and Lincoln counties are a few of the others where CDPHE has approved variances.

The agency has also given written feedback to three counties – Logan, Montezuma and Yuma – in part, because COVID-19 cases are not decreasing enough.

“We really want to see that we have some evidence of having the transmission under control…declining rates of cases,” said Dr. Glen Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy in the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

“It’s really trying to be more precise in how we’re managing this epidemic going forward,” Mays said. “We want to be able to open things up safely where we can.”

CDPHE outlines some of the information that must be included in the variance application here.