Future of 5-Star program uncertain as Routt County is still not eligible
Public health officials are reluctant to sign off on the program without having any data to support that it would be appropriate for the county when it goes into effect, which could be several weeks away.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The future of the state 5-Star certification program locally is still up in the air as Routt County is not yet eligible for the program and has not yet applied for it to be approved by state health officials.
“We’re definitely not eligible at this time, and it does not appear that we will likely be eligible anytime in the very near future,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan at Wednesday’s Board of Public Health meeting.
Even though the county is not eligible, some business owners have pushed commissioners to apply for the program anyway, so when approved, businesses could immediately start realizing the program’s benefits.
But county officials said they would like to see the county’s case counts improve and ensure the program is right for the county before applying.
The administrative committee tasked with guiding the program locally has already begun receiving applications and scheduling business inspections. This was done so the program could hit the ground running upon approval, but the requirements for approval keep changing.
While at level red, the county needed to have a two-week sustained decline in cases and hospitalizations, as well as a positivity rate below 10%. But when Gov. Jared Polis moved Routt County into level orange, it made the requirements for the program even further out of reach.
In level orange, the county would need to meet all of the thresholds of that level to qualify for the program, meaning two-week cases totals would need to fall below 89 cases. The county reported 108 new cases in the past two weeks, and on Wednesday, health officials warned a steeper increase may be on the horizon.
“We are still in red, and we are seeing trends in an upward direction,” said Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith. “I would be hesitant to even try to apply for a program not knowing where our county is going in terms of transmission.”
Smith said she would like to see the county within the level orange metrics for 14 days and have data that shows cases are declining at that level before applying for the program. When the county moved to level blue on the dial in October, Smith said she required the same information before applying for that move.
“That certainly would give us more confidence than applying for a program when we are in red metrics,” Smith said. “I do believe that showing that we as a community can decrease our transmission in those levels would be a good metric to follow.”
Smith and Dr. Brian Harrington, county chief medical officer, said state officials have said they won’t even look at an application before a county meets the appropriate metrics. But even if those thresholds could be met, Smith said she wants the county to be at that spot before applying for the program.
“We also want to have the most up-to-date information in our application,” said Scott Cowman, county environmental health director.
Commissioner Beth Melton said Smith’s reluctance to apply for the program now made sense, adding that having businesses open with level yellow restrictions the day the county meets level orange requirements seems like “jumping a step.”
“We, as a team, have been very committed to moving forward slowly, so that we can make sure we are not in a position where we are going to move backwards,” Melton said. “I think what public health is suggesting is prudent for that reason.”
Cowman said even at the current metrics, the county is having problems with compliance. Hearing this, Melton said she is not sure what the incentive to loosening restrictions further would be.
Violating a public health order at any level would make a business ineligible for the 5-Star program.
The program was originally created in Mesa County to add more mitigation efforts beyond those currently in place to give people more confidence while dining in restaurants. Melton said the focus has been on loosening capacity restrictions and not on the measures in the program meant to slow the spread of the virus.
“The message on that has gotten lost a little bit in that it is all about increased capacity for businesses,” Melton said. “It is meant to be a program with two sides — increased health and safety measures in these environments and an incentive for businesses.”
During public comment Wednesday, several business owners weighed in, asking for public health to sign off on the application despite Smith’s stated reservations.
Some business owners are asking commissioners to push to get the current state program altered specifically for the county, allowing the businesses to get the benefit of the program without adhering to all the additional mitigation efforts it requires for certification.
The county does not have to apply for the program, nor does the state have to approve it before businesses can put additional mitigation efforts in place. Cowman said about 30 businesses already submitted applications with the administrative committee.
Melton said the concern seems to be about a potential delay in how long it will take to get state approval when eligible for the program. But Cowman said he does not anticipate any reason why the state would not approve the program when eligible, and he said he did not think it would take very long.
“Once we get to the point where the metrics say we’re ready to apply, I would think that they would turn that around fairly quickly,” Cowman said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Twenty months after the South Routt School District announced it would close because of a burgeoning coronavirus, COVID-19 is more prevalent in South Routt than ever before.