Draft plan of state program could have restaurants open by late December if adopted
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — State officials are looking for input on a draft plan modeled after the Five Star program in Mesa County that has allowed restaurants to stay open at limited capacity while at level red on the states dial framework.
Mesa had been told to shut down the program by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but after appealing directly to Gov. Jared Polis, they were allowed to keep the program, at least for now.
This drew the ire of restaurant owners in other counties, including Routt County, who had to shut down indoor service amid the resurgence of COVID-19 in Colorado. According to state modeling, one of every 41 Coloradans are infectious with the virus, by far the highest prevalence since the start of the pandemic, though it is even more prevalent in some regions of the state.
On Wednesday, local restaurant owners pushed the Routt County Board of Commissioners to pressure state officials to come up with a program similar to the one in Mesa County that could be utilized in other counties.
“Twenty-five percent capacity is not a sustainable model for restaurants, but it is not something that would be as quickly fatal as zero capacity for in person dining,” said David Wilson, a lawyer who represents the owner of several restaurants in Steamboat Springs.
State officials released a discussion document Friday that, if adopted, could potentially allow Routt County restaurants to open with 25% capacity. The draft of the Five-Star State Certification Framework lays out various measures businesses would be required to take to gain certification in the program, allowing them to open.
At a public health meeting before the draft plan came out, commissioners were supportive of implementing such a program in Routt County if it was cleared by the health department.
“I think we will take those quite seriously and look at ways we might be able to find a way to help our restaurants and other businesses operate at a capacity where they can make a living and keep their employees employed,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said at the meeting. “At the end of the day, we will be relying on our local public health department and, certainly, the CDPHE to provide guidance, so that any steps that we take are well measured and will have positive results.”
For certification, businesses would need to have a written plan for how they are following various state and local mitigation guidelines, have all employees and customers wear a mask and have protocols to enforce mask usage. They also need to log name and contact information of customers, perform daily symptom checks on all employees and regularly encourage employees and customers to sign up for the states COVID-19 notification alert system.
There are industry specific requirements, too. For restaurants, tables must by at least 10 feet apart, and reservations are required. For gyms and other personal services, reservations would be required.
The program would be run by an administrative committee set up by the county that would include members of the local public health department as well as chamber of commerce and other industry representatives.
That committee petitions state health officials to show they can run the program while maintaining other COVID-19 related efforts, like testing. Businesses would then apply for the program, have an inspection from the local public health department and have their plan reviewed.
The program in Mesa County is serving as a proving ground for state health officials. Mesa was granted a 12 day variance, allowing it operate at the level orange restrictions in restaurants of 25% capacity while the county was in level red. State officials hope to use that data to inform the decision of whether or not to launch the statewide program.
Based on the draft plan, counties could begin rolling out certification programs by Dec. 18, the same day Routt County’s place on the state’s dial will be reevaluated by state health officials. But before that, state officials need to have confidence in the system. Until then, it is not a sure thing that counties currently in the red level will be able to utilize the program.
Once part of the program, if a county reached 90% of its hospital capacity or had level red case counts or test positivity metrics for two weeks, the program would be suspended. Routt County has had level red case counts for over a month.
There were 133 new cases in the county last week alone, which exceeds the limit of cases in a two seek span at level red, according to updated county totals.
While counties in level red are getting the most attention because their restaurants are closed, the program would be open to all counties regardless of level and have benefits at each one.
Counties in level orange or yellow would be allowed to operate their restaurants at the capacity of the level below them. The state also contends that the programs will boost consumer trust in the safety of eating at restaurants.
State health officials are asking for comments on the draft framework for the statewide program, which can be submitted through an online form before Dec. 4.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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