As coronavirus cases spike across the metro area, Denver slid into a higher level of restriction Tuesday, a move that will recommend schools move online and capacity within public spaces is tightly curtailed.
"This is what we get when we don't have a national strategy, where we're piecemealing the approaches, where states like Colorado took this seriously and others took the approach, similar to what our leadership in Washington has advised, pretending that there was no pandemic," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news conference announcing the change.
"Had we followed science, had we all worked together on a national strategy, the story might be different today."
The executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment informed Denver that it would be placed under tighter restrictions in letter sent Monday night. Under the second-highest tier of restrictions, Denver's gyms might close, Denver Public Schools will be urged to stop in-person learning and the number of people who can gather in places of worship, businesses, restaurants, retail stores, museums and other public-faced businesses will be limited to 25% capacity.
The state public health department also announced Tuesday that four other counties, including neighboring Adams and Arapaho counties, would also be downgraded.
Bob McDonald, the executive director of Denver Public Health and Environment, said city officials are still having conversations with the state about whether gyms can remain open in some way, a consideration being made for Denverites' mental health.
He and Hancock said there's no single driver of this current spike -- though McDonald showed a picture of a group of young people, holding bottles and huddled together for a picture indoors, as a sign of what not to do -- and that the general nature of transmission now means restrictions must be applied across the board. The age of the newly infected are also more diverse than in previous months.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver, which has nearly 150 parishes in 25 counties, said the church is confident it can continue to minister to its flock even amid the new restrictions here.
“We have entrusted our pastors and parishes to make decisions with respect to local and state guidelines that balance the need to protect public health, while also providing access to the Mass and Sacraments," spokesman Mark Haas said in an email.
Asked about Denver Public Schools, which reopened for elementary students last week but paused returning older students, McDonald said no decision has been made on whether to move entirely online. A spokeswoman for the district said an announcement would likely be released later Tuesday.
Hancock praised Denver residents, saying most have worn masks and made personal sacrifices to blunt the spread.
But he said the city was "not an island," and that as the economy has reopened, commuters and travelers from elsewhere have exacerbated the situation here.
Denver confirmed 375 cases Sunday, the most of any single day since the pandemic began. The previous high was set Saturday, which beat a record set Friday.
Hospitalizations, while well below spring levels, are rising to degrees unseen since the early days of the pandemic. McDonald warned that under the current trajectory, hospitals will face capacity problems within the next few weeks.
Ninety-eight people have been hospitalized in the city as of Sunday, the highest mark at one time since late May.
Hancock said that in order for Denver to climb out of its new restrictions -- and avoid an even more restrictive shelter-in-place order -- it will have to lower its positivity rate, hospitalization numbers and the number of cases confirmed each day.
Those improved trends will also have to hold for two weeks.
"These are not political words or political posturing," the mayor said. "This isn't fearmongering. That's just how the virus works."
He repeatedly likened the situation -- and the monthslong effort to avoid further spread and death -- to pushing a boulder up a hill. He warned that if Denver continues to slide, the boulder will roll backward on top of the city.
He and McDonald warned against "COVID fatigue," which officials across the state, from public health workers to school board members, have said is contributing to this recent spike.
Hancock said Denver residents needed to "fight like hell" and put "their shoulders into" the boulder in order to stop the spread.
In a bid to slow the spread, Hancock earlier this month announced that masks are required in outdoor and indoor spaces, and the number of unrelated people who could gather was capped at five instead of 10.
Both of those measures were tighter than the state's mandates.
Now, if Denver drops further, it will be under a stay-at-home order, something Hancock said officials are attempting to avoid at all costs.
The mayor stressed repeatedly the new restrictions do not make voting centers less safe and that people should continue to exercise that right.
McDonald signed off by noting that last call will be moved up to 10 p.m., and Hancock quipped that liquor stores remain open.