Colorado health director signals additional rule tightening amid delta variant surge – The Denver Post

Colorado’s health director told statehouse leaders Thursday that new, stricter rules in response to the pandemic are in the works.

The state now estimates that 99% of its new COVID-19 cases trace to the virus’s delta variant, and as it spreads through vaccinated and unvaccinated populations — at a much higher and more deadly rate for the latter group — Colorado is again looking at beefing up public health orders.

About six weeks ago, Gov. Jared Polis declared “the health emergency is over” and lifted the state’s emergency declaration. In general, he said early in summer, he’d be looking to relinquish the vast state-of-emergency powers conferred upon him in March of 2020.

“You know that the governor does not have his emergency order in place but at CDPHE we still do have a few public health orders in place,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s executive director, said Thursday in a quarterly update to lawmakers on pandemic response.

“And we are getting ready to update our public health order, and it has to do with things like hospital reporting — we’ve got some policies around long-term care facilities. And we continue to look at whether there’s a need for statewide policies, either in school or in general, and we have the ability to update our policies as that becomes necessary.”

Hunsaker Ryan did not offer any other details.

The issue of school restrictions has become especially heated of late, with parents’ public opinion nearly evenly divided over mask mandates, and county and school officials under heavy pressure. Polis has chosen to leave the matter to them, for now, resisting any statewide mask requirement in schools.

At various points in the pandemic, the governor has faced criticism from local officials, including fellow Democrats, who wish he’d take stricter action that would, among other things, clear up confusion over a hodgepodge of rulemaking and take pressure off individual boards and commissions to chart their own courses. Now, in the state’s fifth wave of COVID-19, that chorus is starting up once again.

“We need a statewide mask order!!!” tweeted state Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat and emergency room nurse.

After months of loosening restrictions, Polis has in recent weeks drifted in the other direction — despite his optimistic July declaration. He’s supported vaccine mandates for workers in nursing homes, who also are once again required to wear masks alongside residents of such facilities. State employees in a variety of roles could face termination if they don’t get vaccinated. He also extended protections for some at risk of eviction.

The governor has said consistently that he looks to hospital capacity as the main indicator of Colorado’s success or failure in responding to the virus. State health officials say that area is relatively under control at the moment, with hospitalizations rising but at only about a third of their December peak.

As of Thursday, about 73% of people 12 and order in Colorado had received at least one vaccine dose, the state reported. Hunsaker Ryan said, of the unvaccinated lot, “It’s only a matter of time before COVID-19 finds them.”

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