Local orders & variances

Updated July 2, 2020, 10:00 p.m.
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In Colorado, local governments can choose to have different rules from the state in some cases. To get the most up-to-date information on local orders and variances, contact the area’s local public health agency. There are two ways a local government or local public health agency can deviate from the state’s orders:

  1. A local public health order: Local public health orders are more protective than the state orders.
  2. A variance: Variances are less protective than the state orders.

Factors weighed in determining whether to grant a variance 

CDPHE weighs several factors in determining whether it can grant a variance while continuing to sufficiently protect public health. The factors seek to balance the local government’s requests with the need for ongoing statewide disease suppression.

To assist local governments and public health agencies in the development of variances requests and to ensure transparency, we are publishing the factors CDPHE considers when reviewing variance applications. CDPHE updates the considerations as we learn more about transmission and the evolving pandemic. The following considerations are subject to change: 

The county’s variance request must:

  • Clearly indicate which provisions the county is requesting a variance from. 
  • Describe preventive measures the county will require to meet the intent state’s orders.

CDPHE will not grant any variance requests that: 

  • Seek to be removed from the requirements of the state’s orders generally.
  • Reduce or eliminate protections for vulnerable populations, as defined in state’s orders. These groups are specifically protected by the state’s orders. 
  • Seek variances for Public Health Order 20-29: Voluntary and Elective Surgeries and Procedures.

CDPHE will evaluate variance requests based on local epidemiological data to assess whether the county requesting the variance has a disease prevalence that is LOW, MEDIUM, or HIGH. Other metrics are considered as well such as the two-week case trend, percent positivity of tests, and whether outbreaks exist and are contained. The variance will be commensurate with the local virus transmission and disease burden.

How CDPHE defines low, medium, and high transmission levels 

Status of viral spread: Low

Thresholds

25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks in the setting of stable or declining cases*  excluding cases associated with outbreaks in residential facilities.

AND

Stable or declining average hospitalizations in the county’s referral hospitals for the last 14 days.

*For counties with high testing rates, a two week average positivity rate of less than 5% may be considered in lieu of two-week incidence data.

 

Variance capacity upper limits

May be approved (pending full application consideration) up to:

Indoors: Up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, and not to exceed more than 175 people gathered in a confined indoor space at any given time. 

Outdoors: Plans ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, with rigorous prevention measures in place, up to 250 people.

Status of viral spread: Medium

Thresholds

50 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks in the setting of stable or declining cases* excluding cases associated with outbreaks in residential facilities. 

AND

Stable or declining average hospitalizations in the county’s referral hospitals for the last 14 days.

*For counties with high testing rates, a two-week average positivity rate of less than 10% may be considered in lieu of two-week incidence data.

Variance capacity upper limits

May be approved (pending full application consideration) up to:

Indoors: Up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, and not to exceed more than 100 people gathered in a confined indoor space at any given time. 

Outdoors: Plans ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, with rigorous prevention measures in place, up to 175 people.

Status of viral spread: High

Thresholds

50-100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks in the setting of stable or declining cases*  excluding cases associated with outbreaks in residential facilities. 

AND

Stable or declining average hospitalizations in the county’s referral hospitals for the last 14 days.

*For counties with high testing rates, a two week average positivity rate of less than 15% may be considered in lieu of two week incidence data.

Variance capacity upper limits

May be approved (pending full application consideration) up to:

Indoors: Up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, and not to exceed more than 50 people gathered in a confined indoor space at any given time. 

Outdoors: Plans ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person, with rigorous prevention measures in place, up to 125 people.

Adjustments to variances

All variances are subject to adjustments based on changes in the level of disease transmission. These adjustments will take place according to a standard and transparent process that incentivizes local monitoring and self-adjustment. 

All variance holders should self-monitor the virus transmission in their region. If a variance holder self-reports that they cross the threshold from low → medium, or medium → higher, then they have 2 weeks to implement a mitigation plan to try and restore virus transmission levels to baseline under which the variance was approved. If after two weeks, the levels do not restore, then the capacity limits are automatically adjusted to the maximum of the new level.

So for example, if a county was “low” and had a capacity limit variance approved for a maximum of 175 people indoors, and becomes a “higher” county and cannot restore to “low” levels after two weeks,  then the variance capacity limit automatically reduces to a maximum of 50 people indoors.

If after two weeks at the new level, if virus transmission continues to increase, then the variance is no longer granted.

If a county does NOT self-report that they’ve crossed a threshold, then they will not have a two week period to self-correct. Instead, they automatically go to the next level, and after 2 weeks, may lose their variance if virus transmission continues to increase.

Shows a schematic for the process of requesting and approving a variance.

How to apply for a variance

Variance applications must be complete before we begin the review process. A complete variance application includes:

  • A completed variance form.
  • Specific sectors or activities for which a variance is sought. 
  • Proposed alternative preventive measures for those sectors or activities.
  • The application must certify: 
    • That the county has low case counts and/or 
    • That the county has a downward trajectory of cases within a 14-day period OR a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent or total tests within a 14-day period. 
  • The application must include a COVID-19 suppression plan approved by: 
    • the local public health agency, 
    • all hospitals within the county or region (unless no hospitals are located in the county), and they must verify that they have the capacity to serve all people needing their care.
    • a majority of county commissioners (or other county-level governing body), and
    • If a sovereign nation is present in the county, support from the sovereign nation for the variance request. 

Frequently asked questions

Exposure varies with the intensity of the contact, the duration of the contact, and the overall number of people potentially exposed during the contact.

This includes things like hand washing, increased ventilation, wearing protective gear like face coverings, sterilizing surfaces, and maintaining a 6-foot distance between individuals or members of the different households. 

Variances are more likely to be approved for low-exposure activities, with high abilities to do prevention, such as recreation in “park-like” environments where people do not have interactions with members outside of their household-- and where it’s feasible to require mask-wearing. 

Variances are unlikely to be approved for activities that have higher exposure risks where it is difficult to take preventive measures, such as concerts, bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, fairs, and festivals. This is especially true for communities with higher virus transmission. The riskier the activity, the more scrutiny that will be applied to the justification and mitigation plans set forth in the variance request.

A committee of scientists, lawyers, and policymakers, in consultation with CDPHE leadership and the Governor’s Office, evaluate variance requests holistically. The approvals are based on several factors, including the risk of the activity and the rigor of the prevention plan.

Counties that implement measures that are less restrictive than state orders without first obtaining a variance from CDPHE may be subject to having preparedness dollars withheld.

Variance applications are reviewed for completeness within 2 business days of receipt. CDPHE staff will reach out to the county to supplement the application materials if it is deemed incomplete. Once determined complete, the applications are routed for review and a response is anticipated within 10 to 15 business days. Variance applications seeking relief in multiple sectors may take longer to process than those with three or fewer requests.