Denver is moving in the wrong direction and Mayor Michael Hancock is not happy about it.

At his press conference Tuesday morning, Hancock announced that the state of Colorado has required the city to move back to the Safer at Home Level 3 stage from Safer at Home Level 2. Restoring Level 3, which primarily impacts capacity limits for restaurants and other non-essential businesses, is the last step backward before Denver will have to reimplement stay-at-home orders.

“Despite our best efforts and the fact that most Denverites are dutifully wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, postponing family gatherings, and otherwise making sacrifices to make our community safe, Denver is not an island,” Hancock said. “We’re the capitol city, the largest city in the state visited everyday, and we cannot control what our near neighbors do when they visit our city. I don’t believe this is Denver’s failing. It is rather a failing by those who refuse to believe in science and those who do not take it seriously.”

As part of these updated restrictions, which will be fully implemented on Wednesday, restaurants, retail businesses, and offices will have capacity cut from 50 to 25 percent. Indoor events will now have a 25-person cap and outdoor events will have a 75-person cap. The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment also updated Level 3 restrictions to provide greater flexibility for gyms than was previously allowed—fitness centers can now operate at 25 percent capacity or 25 people, whichever is fewer.

(Read more about how restaurants will be affected by these restrictions

Rates of positivity, hospitalization, and average daily cases are all spiking in Denver as part of the third wave of COVID-19. Right now, the two-week average of cases is 385 per 100,000 residents in the city. The threshold for Level 2 is 175 cases per 100,000. The city will now have to reduce its daily case average below 175 and keep it there for at least two weeks before it can lift the new restrictions. The way cases are trending, though, it seems more likely that the city will have to reinstate the stay-at-home orders from March and April.

“All indications are that cases are going to increase,” said Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver’s Department of Public Health. “We are moving toward a stay-at-home order if we don’t get this in control.”

There are some exceptions to the renewed restrictions, Hancock said. Established variances for certain arts and cultural institutions will remain in place and voting centers will not be impacted ahead of the November 3 general election.

On Tuesday evening—just one week after the district fully reopened for elementary classes—Denver Public Schools announced that students in third through fifth grades would return to remote learning starting next Monday until Thanksgiving (middle and high school students are already continuing with remote learning through the end of the semester, December 18).

While the DPS decision came on the same day that city officials announced that Denver would return to Level 3 restrictions, the state did not mandate that the district move to remote learning. DPS hosts its own COVID-19 dashboard to track various county metrics, including positive cases, trends in positive cases, and percent of positive tests. All three indicators have recently moved into the red zone, which prompted the change.

Editor’s note, 10/27/20: This article has been updated with new information regarding changes to the Level 3 restrictions for gyms and Denver Public Schools’ remote learning.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.