Routt County officials discuss next steps after state move to orange ’plus’ opened restaurants
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County officials met Saturday to discuss next steps as the county was moved to level orange plus by the state late Friday, opening restaurants at 25% capacity.
The emergency meeting did not go as planned when it was scheduled on Friday. Initially, Routt County Board of Commissioners and county officials were to discuss a new public health order that would satisfy state officials enough to move the county to level orange plus.
But when the state surprisingly moved Routt County to orange plus Friday night, there was no longer a need for a new order. Instead, they discussed the implications of level orange plus, the progress on setting up the five-star program and what would go into a mitigation plan to the state.
The county is now working to submit that updated mitigation plan to state officials by the end of the day on Tuesday, all while trying to organize distribution of the vaccine or as Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith put it, “get shots in arms.”
Though the loosening of restrictions is a much-needed lifeline to restaurants nearing the brink of collapse, it also means that Routt County businesses will not be eligible for aid passed in the state’s special session earlier this month.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said being ineligible for state aid was something they understood when the opportunity to move to orange plus was being discussed.
“We did address that with the restaurant group,” Corrigan said. “It appeared to me that they were reiterating their position that they didn’t need any more handouts, they needed to get open.”
Corrigan said in recent weeks, he has had some pretty frank exchanges with the restaurant community with many of them wanting the commissioners to step up and find a way to get them open.
“We have stepped up, and we did find a way to get restaurants open,” Corrigan said. “It’s your turn now to step up and make sure that as you reopen, you do it in a safe manner.”
At this point, what orange plus is exactly is still somewhat murky.
Smith pointed out that it is really more of a red plus, as most of the level red restrictions are still in place.
The letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday did not explain it, other than to say it allows restaurants to open at 25% capacity. County Attorney Erick Knaus said he has heard orange plus used to refer to counties like Pitkin and Eagle, which are in level orange but enforcing enhanced restrictions.
“Orange plus generally means that certain restrictions could be waived or lessened, for example restaurants being allowed to operate or do indoor dining at 25%,” Knaus said. “Orange plus doesn’t mean a shift to orange.”
It also is unknown what could cause the state to pull in the reins and close indoor dining once again.
For now, it is just restaurants with loosened restrictions, but an updated mitigation plan could include looser restrictions on places like gyms and fitness centers, as well. The county will meet Tuesday to discuss the details of what will go into the mitigation plan they submit to the state.
Corrigan said this has been the result of various county officials “shaking the bushes” to understand what the status of the county was and what could be done to change it.
It is not entirely clear at this time why CDPHE reversed themselves on Friday, when earlier in the day, it seemed there were more hoops they wanted the county to jump through before restrictions were loosened.
The move seems driven, at least to some degree, by Routt and other counties claims of inequities in how the state has been imposing the dial framework. Commissioners sent a letter to Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday to point out the seemingly arbitrary enforcement of the dial and to ask the governor to let their restaurants open at 25% capacity.
Routt County seems to be the only county moved to level orange plus on Friday, though Knaus said he assumed other signers of the letter to Polis would be given similar benefit as Routt County. He also said the point of their letter was to expose the inequities in the system, not create more of them by Routt getting special treatment.
The move comes as the county and local partners are working to start up the state’s Five Star Certification Program in the county to get restaurants open. Inspections of restaurants had planned to start on Saturday, but now will be delayed as restaurants can open.
The county will still pursue the program, though it is not eligible to be in the program while in level orange plus. The benefit of the five star program is that it applies to all businesses, not just restaurants. It also has shown signs in Mesa County that it does provide for some protection from the virus.
“The majority of folks believe the five star program would be more beneficial than this simple orange plus methodology,” Knaus said. “For one, five star would benefit all businesses and not just restaurants.”
Knaus also pointed out that not all businesses benefit from the five star program either. Some smaller restaurants may not have the space to meet the distance requirements of the program.
“While we are all very happy right now, that we found a way to get restaurants open at 25%, they wont be able to stay there if we as a community and they as an industry don’t do the correct things that need to be done in order to control the spread of the virus,” Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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