El Paso County will roll back the number of people allowed to gather indoors because of a steady increase of COVID-19 cases during the past several weeks.
Under the stricter public health guidelines, indoor gatherings will be restricted to 100 people starting Monday, down from the 175 permitted by state-granted variances. The new cap on indoor gatherings will be in effect for at least two weeks, officials said, at which time the rollback will be reevaluated. Houses of worship are exempt from the limit, a decision made based on the county's outbreak data, said Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director for the agency.
The state will continue to allow gatherings of up to 250 people outdoors because gathering outside is safer, Johnson said.
The announcement is a reversal from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's statement on Wednesday that El Paso County's case numbers were declining and the community's mitigation efforts were succeeding. The state agency had cited a lower three-day average of new cases in recent days, as proof of the decline, despite weeks of data showing an increase.
On Friday, El Paso County was seeing 151 new cases per 100,000 residents on average over two weeks and on average 8% of residents tested are testing positive for the virus — both indicators of high transmission rates, according to the state. The two data points also exceed the limits for disease transmission set by the state that the city needed to maintain to keep its variances.
"This virus remains very active and very dangerous," Mayor John Suthers said Friday.
Suthers said the data shows the community needs to do more and take small reasonable steps like limiting large gatherings to avoid more drastic steps such as closing down shops and restaurants.
It is too soon to say whether the new limits on indoor gatherings would affect any businesses, or even result in their having to shut down, said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corp.
In addition to new limits on gatherings, city, state and county officials will be setting up a free drive-thru testing site to better gauge the spread of disease, Johnson said. But there is no timeline for when it will open, she said.
Local government officials and business representatives will also be advocating for more teleworking. Major employers in town have succeeding in transitioning most of their employees out of office settings including T. Rowe Price Investment Management and Lockheed Martin, Draper said.
"Please encourage your employees to telework to the maximum extent possible," he said.
Gov. Jared Polis contacted Colorado Springs leaders Thursday to review the adjustment to indoor gatherings before it was announced, a step local officials appreciated, El Paso County Commission Chairman Mark Waller said.