Welp: A spike in coronavirus cases means Denver will slow its reopening efforts

“We don’t need to hit the panic button yet. But we do need to be diligent,” said city public health executive director Bob McDonald.

Denver's COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center had about 2,000 reservations on July 8, 2020. The lines were long.

Denver's COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center had about 2,000 reservations on July 8, 2020. The lines were long.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

A spike in coronavirus cases in Denver has prompted city officials to hit the brakes on reopening the city’s economy.

Mayor Michael Hancock said Wednesday during a briefing that the city will no longer submit public health order variance requests to the state. The requests allow the city to operate outside the public health orders established by Gov. Jared Polis’ office. Examples include allowing more people in local hospitality businesses and more attendees at places like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Bob McDonald, head of the city’s public health department, said variances already in place will remain.

“The whole idea here with managing this virus is to balance our COVID-19 response with the serious economic impacts of this, so we have been very thoughtful with what we’ve moved forward,” McDonald said, adding, “We don’t need to hit the panic button yet. But we do need to be diligent.”

Cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Denver are increasing, though hospital capacity remains steady. The seven-day average for case rates in Denver has increased from 53.7 cases two weeks ago to 68.6 cases Wednesday. The city has a positivity rate hovering between 4 to 5 percent, up from 2.7 percent in early June.

As of Wednesday, the city has 7,968 COVID-19 cases and 398 deaths, according to Denver Public Health. The health agency’s data shows a spike in cases between mid-June to this week.

Like he did last week, Hancock asked Denverites to keep wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand-washing, avoiding large groups and staying home as much as possible. Hancock called the spike in cases extremely concerning.

“But we’re in a place where if we stay focused, we can reverse the trend,” Hancock said.

The mayor has asked McDonald to prepare to get “tougher” about enforcing things like the city’s face-covering order, and potentially rollback other reopening efforts. The city’s public health agency will be devoting more staff to compliance efforts for the face-covering order, which has been in place since May. Efforts will include visiting businesses and venues where the order is mandated.

McDonald said the city would look at several factors, including cases and hospitalizations, before deciding whether to consider another shutdown.

Hancock said the city’s free COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center, which recently changed its operations due to high demand, will be operating through July, but that Denver is working with the state and regional partners to make sure it can stay open beyond this month. The mayor noted the testing site is an “expensive proposition.”

The site has provided more than 50,000 tests since it opened in May. The city will also provide at least seven community testing sites around the city and continue providing mobile testing.

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