Local businesses can now apply for 5-Star program, but Routt County not yet eligible | SteamboatToday.com

Local businesses can now apply for 5-Star program, but Routt County not yet eligible

While the application process started Wednesday, businesses won’t be able to realize the programs benefits until the county is approved for the program by state health officials.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Businesses can start applying for certification through the 5-Star variance program, which could allow them to open with limited capacity if they are still closed or expand capacity after implementing an enhanced mitigation plan.

Routt County is not currently eligible for the program, but the local administrative committee running the program notified businesses Wednesday they could start applying.

“This work is preliminary to getting approval from the state to run the program,” said Kara Stoller, CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber and co-chair of the administrative committee. “Instead of waiting to do all of the review of the applications and all of that after we hear from the state, we want to get as much done prior to that as possible.”

The 5-Star program is modeled after a program in Mesa County that allowed the county to keep restaurants open while at level red. Since the state devised the program, Summit, Larimer, Douglas and Broomfield counties have all been approved for the program.

For counties in level red, the county would need to see two weeks of sustained decrease in cases to become eligible. Stoller said the goal is to have the program ready to go by the time the state approves the county for the program, so there is little delay in reducing restrictions in restaurants.

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If certified by the administrative committee, a business would be allowed to operate at restrictions of a lower level on the dial. For example, businesses in level red counties would be allowed to use level orange restrictions.

But because Routt County’s mitigation plan was approved Tuesday, expanding restrictions in gyms, fitness centers and pools, and the orange plus restrictions allow restaurants to open to in-person dining at 25% capacity, the program would not currently benefit a lot of businesses.

Stoller said businesses that provide personal services and indoor events stand to gain the most from the 5-Star program right away, but others would see the benefit, too, as the county improves on the dial framework.

“While there will be some benefits for some industries in the very near future, it is also looking further down the line,” Stoller said. “When we get to officially be in (level) orange, industries who have been approved and certified can then function in (level) yellow.”

A notice alerting businesses that they could apply for the program was sent out Wednesday, and Stoller said they have already received questions about the program and how to apply. On Monday, the administrative committee will review the applications received, and if approved, site inspection teams would schedule an inspection of the approved business.

The county’s COVID-19 ambassadors will perform the inspections, potentially partnering up with a trained volunteer inspector as well.

Inspection reports will go back to the administrative committee for final review. Even if approved for the program, businesses would still need for the state to approve the program in the county for them to realize capacity benefits.

“There is nothing preventing us from doing the background — accepting applications, reviewing applications and doing the site inspections,” Stoller said. “What we need from the state is their official allowance that we can run this program.”

While not currently approved, Stoller said she expects the county will be at some point.

“I do feel that it’s a matter of time rather than a complete question mark as to whether or not the state would approve us,” Stoller said.

Routt County Board of Commissioners approved an updated public health order Wednesday formalizing the 5-Star program into the order.

“It is just a matter of being prepared to go forward and not a matter of being caught up in our bureaucratic necessity of having to meet every time something changes,” Routt County Attorney Erick Knaus said. “We are trying to be ready to go once approved, if approved.”

Commissioner Doug Monger said he is worried about doing a lot of work to get the program up and running before having the sign-off from the state. Knaus said while there is some risk, the reward for businesses when the county is approved would be worth the risk.

“Is there some risk of doing unnecessary work? Yes. Have we done potentially unnecessary work? Well, yes,” Knaus said. “First of all, we’re hopeful that we can get the numbers where we can be approved for 5-Star, and second, that the state approves it.”

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