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Denver to pause variance requests due to uptick in COVID-19 cases

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he would pause variance requests and increase compliance for mask complaints in the city.

DENVER — The City of Denver will pause submitting variance requests to the state due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made this announcement during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“The recent spike we’re seeing is extremely concerning, but if we take a step now, we’ll reverse that trend,” Hancock said.

Cities can submit variance requests to the state that essentially allow them to reopen beyond Colorado’s statewide guidelines. Among Denver’s variances are the reopening of the Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens at limited capacity.

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Those variances will still be in effect for those venues and they can reopen, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said. This could be reconsidered if the numbers increase.

Hancock said Denver is hovering at a COVID-19 test positivity rate between 4-5% -- an increase over the 2.7% number the city had in June. The mayor said the city has also seen a slight uptick in hospitalizations and ICU bed usage in recent weeks.

“We try to play very close attention to numbers, it’s not about panicking,” Hancock said. “… I believe pausing these variances gives us the opportunity for control to try to manage it and reverse the trends.”

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Hancock implored communities surrounding Denver to institute face covering mandates.

“We’re all calling on you to implement one, by doing so you will send a strong public message that protects the lives of your residents and others,” Hancock said.

Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties have recently issued mask orders. Douglas County said it will not.

Hancock said Denver will begin cracking down on people who choose not to wear masks in the city, which has had a mask order since May 8.

“I am going to realign the resources in our department to add some staff members to our compliance team … we’re going to be a little more proactive,” McDonald said.

The free COVID-19 testing site at the Pepsi Center has served 50,000 people since it opened, Hancock said, and the city is working to keep it in operation until at least the end of the month. The city is also setting up seven community-based testing sites and working to offer testing at home.

“I think we’re taking the right steps, the precautionary steps to sort of stem the tide of this trend,” Hancock said.