Denver issued two new orders on Friday aimed at slowing rising coronavirus cases in Colorado’s capital city, limiting gatherings to five people and requiring mask-wearing in all outdoor settings.
The mask-wearing order expands on Denver’s order requiring face coverings in all indoor settings. Organized athletic programming — like college and high school sports, as well as organized youth and adult leagues — is exempt from the expanded order. People who are by themselves are also exempt.
The order is in effect immediately and indefinitely.
The order limiting gatherings, which also goes into effect immediately and lasts until at least Nov. 16, applies to people who don’t live in the same household. Before, Denverites were allowed to gather in groups of up to 10.
Organized athletics are exempt from the expanded gathering order, but pick-up games and unorganized park athletics are not. Restaurants are still allowed to seat tables of up to 10 people, city officials said, because of the strict guidelines they have to adhere to.
The announcement comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising in Denver and across Colorado. Health officials are sounding the alarm, saying if the trajectory isn’t altered hospitals could eventually be overwhelmed.
Gov. Jared Polis on Friday estimated that 1 in every 260 Coloradans have coronavirus and are contagious.
More than 352 were hospitalized because of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, the highest number since May. Polis said the state also recorded 1,300 new cases over a 24-hour span, a record since Colorado recorded its first confirmed case on March 5.
“We’re now seeing that we’re even higher than we’ve ever been during the course of this pandemic,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Friday during a virtual news conference.
Hancock said Denver is “on the edge of a crisis.”
Hancock blamed the coronavirus spike on the return of K-12 schools and colleges, pandemic fatigue, and the resumption of many activities.
“All that is contributing to this moment of time when we are seeing a spike,” he said.
The new orders come just days after Denver Public Schools opted to delay the return of in-person classes for middle school and high school students in the city because of the worsening COVID-19 situation.
Bob McDonald, who leads the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said Denverites really should avoid gathering with people outside of their household for the near future.
He’s been most alarmed by large, informal gatherings in parks. “That is what needs to stop,” McDonald said. “That is what these orders are targeted toward.”
The city is pledging increased enforcement to ensure people are abiding by the expanded orders.
“We are going to increase the number of members from the Department of Safety to proactively check our parks, the 16th Street Mall — many places in Denver that are popular for gathering,” McDonald said. “… Members of the Department of Safety are also going to respond to calls where there are violations of the public health order, even in residential settings.”
New public health orders limiting people’s movement were also unveiled Friday in Adams and Arapahoe counties, which are also seeing increased case numbers.
In Arapahoe County, Tri-County Health Department ordered restaurants and bars to stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m. instead of midnight and restricted gathering to 10 people or fewer, down from 25. Nonessential, office-based businesses in the county are also being encouraged to increase telecommuting.
The order is in effect until Nov. 1.
In Adams County, Tri-County Health Department is prohibiting spectators at high school sporting events and adult recreational and league sports. Personal indoor gatherings are now limited to five people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people.
All alcohol sales in Adams County must cease at 10 p.m. under the order, which is also set to last through Nov. 1.
Indicating the statewide nature of the rise in coronavirus transmission, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar warned his city that people need to change their behavior as soon as possible.
“It is now clear that we are facing a second peak of the virus,” he said in a written statement. “Just like we did last spring, we need to flatten the curve.”