Local orders & variances

Updated June 3, 2020, 2:00 p.m.

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In Colorado, local governments can choose to have different rules from the state in some instances. To get the most up-to-date information on local orders and variances, contact the area’s local public health agency.

Information on local public health orders

Local governments can choose to enact stricter guidance than the state – like extending the Stay-at-Home order within the local government’s jurisdiction. 

Information on variances

Counties may seek a variance from the state’s “Safer-at-Home” public health order. Variances are generally less strict than the state’s order. To get a variance from the state’s orders, counties must:

  • Submit a written application to CDPHE. 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 (unless no hospitals are located in the county),  
    • 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. 
  • CDPHE shall review and approve variance requests that meet the department's public health standards. 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.

Counties with state-approved variances

Bent County

Chaffee County

Cheyenne County

Crowley County

Custer County

Delta County

Dolores County

Denver County

Douglas County

Eagle County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

El Paso County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

Elbert County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

Fremont County

Garfield County

Grand County

Gunnison County

Huerfano County

Hinsdale County

Kiowa County

Kit Carson County

Larimer County

Las Animas County

Lincoln County

Logan County

Mesa County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

Mineral County

Moffat County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

Montrose County

Otero County

Ouray County

Phillips County

Pitkin County

Prowers County

Rio Blanco County - Variance 1 | Variance 2

Rio Grande County

Routt County

Sedgwick County

Teller County

Yuma County

Variance instructions

In light of the highly infectious nature of the novel coronavirus, activities, events, and other areas where gatherings occur have been curtailed in order to maintain social distance and slow the spread of the virus. 

Activities that can be performed with under 10 people, where people can maintain a distance of 6ft or greater, and take other prevention measures such as mask-wearing and hand washing are permitted regardless of activity type or industry.

For some activities and industries, like personal services, outdoor recreation, retail, child care, personal recreation, and many others, CDPHE has put out guidelines which specify capacity and prevention measures needed to be taken in order to conduct that activity. 

If a community wants to perform activities at greater capacity levels than are permitted by the existing guidelines, or activities that are not currently permitted under the executive order Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors, then the local public health agency must apply for a variance from the order. To date, we have taken significant steps to tailor these considerations as much as possible to the unique conditions across the diverse communities of our state. We seek to balance a community’s economic needs and well being with our statewide, ongoing disease suppression response. 

In an effort to further assist local policymakers in the development of their requests and ensure transparency, we are publishing the following criteria for reviewing these applications. We are constantly updating the criteria in light of emerging scientific information and the changing nature of the pandemic in Colorado. As such, these criteria are subject to change.

CDPHE will not grant a general request to be removed from the Safer At Home Order. The county’s variance request must:

  • Clearly indicate the provisions of the Safer At Home Order from which the county is requesting a variance. 
  • Describe the alternate restrictions the county will require to meet the intent of the Safer at Home Order.

CDPHE will not grant any variance requests that: 

  • Reduce or eliminate protections for vulnerable populations.  These groups are specifically protected by the state’s orders. Vulnerable individuals are defined in the Safer at Home Order and PHO 20-28 Part III.Q. 
  • Seek variances for Public Health Order 20-29: Voluntary and Elective Surgeries and Procedures.
Application

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

  • A completed variance form.
  • Specific identification of sectors or activities for which you are seeking a variance.
  • Identification of the alternative restrictions you propose to put in place for those sectors or activities.
  • Verification from all hospitals in the county or region that they have the capacity to serve all people needing their care.
  • Documentation of a vote affirmatively adopting the alternative plan in place of the state Safer-At-Home Order by the county commissioners or other county-level governing body.

Variance requests will be evaluated based on local epidemiological data to assess whether the county requesting the variance has a disease prevalence that is LOW, MEDIUM, or HIGH. If high, other metrics may be considered such as 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. All efforts will be made to respond to variance requests within 7-10 business days of receipt. We will communicate with an estimated turnaround time if we are experiencing a high volume of requests and expect the process to take longer than usual.

County Status and Variance Limits

Variances will be assessed based on the level of virus transmission in a particular county, the level of exposure risk of the proposed activity, and the comprehensiveness of the proposed prevention plan.

  • What is the exposure risk of the proposed activity? Exposure varies with the intensity of the contact, the duration of the contact, and the overall number of people potentially exposed during the contact.
  • What is the ability to do prevention in that situation? 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 do prevention, 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 higher the scrutiny that will be applied to the justification and mitigation plans set forth in the variance request.

Importantly, just because there are variance capacity upper limits does not mean that variances are automatically approved at these levels. Variances will be evaluated holistically by a committee of scientists, lawyers, and policymakers, in consultation with CDPHE leadership and the Governor’s Office, and the approvals will be based on numerous factors including the risk of the activity and the rigor of the prevention plan.

It is also important to note that these are guidelines -- there may be unique or local factors that impact the variance assessment. Higher limits will be uncommon, but may be granted on a limited, case-by-case basis when there is extremely strong justification presented. Here are the criteria to assess virus transmission levels, and associated capacity limits:

Status of viral spread: Low

Thresholds

25 or fewer new cases/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 6ft apart, ensuring a minimum of 28sq ft 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 28sq ft per person, with rigorous prevention measures in place, up to 250 people.

Status of viral spread: Medium

Thresholds

50 or fewer new cases/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 6ft apart, ensuring a minimum of 28sq ft 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 28sq ft 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 6ft apart, ensuring a minimum of 28sq ft 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 28sq ft per person, with rigorous prevention measures in place, up to 125 people.

Counties that have previously obtained variances prior to these standards being established may continue to operate with those variances on the already agreed-upon terms. If a previous variance has been rejected that would meet these newly established criteria, we encourage resubmission.

Adjustments

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 get 2 weeks to implement a mitigation plan to try and restore virus transmission levels to baseline under which the variance was approved. If after 2 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 2 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 do not receive a 2 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.