By Pam Zubeck

Local and state authorities agreed July 31 to dial back reopening guidelines in response to rising numbers of hospitalizations and positive tests of COVID-19 in El Paso County.

The amended guidelines, which went into effect Monday, Aug. 3, are as follows:

• The number of people allowed to gather indoors will be slashed from 175 to 100, except for houses of worship, which can continue to host 175 people. (This guideline has no impact on outdoor gatherings, which are still limited to 250 people.)

• Develop a community-wide testing site that will be convenient, accessible and free.

• Urge businesses to have their employees telecommute.

The new measures will remain in place at least two weeks.

“This is another call for action to take preventive efforts,” El Paso County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Robin Johnson said at a news briefing July 31. ”We have made great strides and want to move forward to protect the health and well-being of our community.”

She urged citizens to “do your part” by social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, staying home if sick and self-quarantining if you’ve been exposed to someone who’s tested positive.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could rescind El Paso County’s variances, which have allowed more businesses to admit more customers than under statewide orders, but instead CDPHE has worked with the county, city and Public Health, as well as the business community, to find a way to see if cases could be tamped down without pulling the plug entirely on those variances, Johnson said.

“Today’s actions are really an important wake-up call to remind everyone this virus remains very active and very dangerous,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. “We must all do our part to stop the spread to return to normalcy as soon as possible. We need everyone’s cooperation.”

County Commission Chairman Mark Waller noted that while county officials have accused Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials of “overreach” in their orders to stem the spread of the virus and also of failing to cooperate with the county, “Now, we are pleased to say as our cases are on the rise, that Governor Polis and the CDPHE have addressed our concerns head-on and sought our input about what to do about our rising numbers.”

Waller said local officials are scouting for a testing site but didn’t say when it would open.

He also warned, “COVID is a serious disease.”

Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, pleaded with the business community to allow employees to work from home. The Chamber will develop a toolkit for best practices soon, he said.

He noted some success stories locally, which include firms that employ 1,000 to 2,000 people who have 90 percent of their workers teleworking.

“This is a call to action. This is a foot stomp. Please encourage your employees to telework to the maximum extent possible,” he said.

Johnson said Public Health is “having diligent conversations with our schools” to develop strategies on mitigation plans that “will allow us to move forward in collaboration to bring our children back for some real, meaningful education.”