State releases outline for 5 Star program that could allow restaurants to open at level red
Routt County does not currently meet the requirements for the program, but local officials are preparing for when they do.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday at 11 a.m. to reflect the involvement of the city of Steamboat Springs in the effort to certify businesses.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — State officials have released a plan that could allow restaurants to expand capacity and open for indoor dining in level red counties by meeting certification guidelines.
The catch: Routt County currently does not meet the eligibility requirements for the program.
The county is progressing, so when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the county is eligible, restaurants interested in the program would be able to apply for the program, which could allow them to open to in-person dining.
“We’ve been preparing to be ready when it rolled out, and I think we are,” said Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton. “It is some glimmer of a lifeline for our restaurants, which they desperately need right now.”
The state’s 5 Star State Certification Program is modeled off a program in Mesa County that allowed restaurants to stay open despite the county being in level red of the state’s dial framework.
For each level of the dial, it allows businesses to operate at a lower level of restrictions on the dial. Certified businesses in level red counties would be allowed to operate with level orange capacity levels.
The eligibility requirements of the program differ based on which level of the dial a county is in. In level red, the county needs to have a two-week sustained decline in case incidence and hospitalizations, and the percent positivity needs to be below 10%.
Routt County’s hospitalizations and percent positivity are good enough, but cases have not yet seen enough of a sustained decline to meet state guidelines.
The plan requires counties to create an administrative committee responsible for the program. The committee must include the local public health department and other partners such as the Chamber of Commerce, nonprofits, elected officials and industry members.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the committee in Routt County, co-chaired by Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller, has already had a meeting. David “Mo” DeMorat, the county emergency operations manager, serves as the other co-chair.
The committee, which is not controlled by the county but has county representatives, submitted an application to state officials for approval Thursday.
“We just can’t say when we will actually become eligible to enter 5-Star,” Corrigan said. “What we can say is that this administrative committee is working as fast as possible and will actually engage in the certification program before we are eligible, so at the moment we become eligible, certification will have already taken place.”
The city of Steamboat Springs is helping provide inspectors to certify restaurants and they will be trained Saturday morning and start inspecting businesses later in the day. Three city council members, Kathi Meyer, Lisel Petis and Michael Buccino, volunteered to be inspectors in addition to four other city staff.
Meyer said they were told to clear their schedule for three days starting Saturday so they could inspect businesses, which will be done in teams of two.
The city has also committed to pay for a professional consultant if state officials feel the application needs more professional organization.
“If for any reason it gets turned down, we’ve committed $10,000 out of the city manager’s funds,” Meyer said.
Businesses will submit an application to the committee outlining how they will follow the guidelines the program requires. Applications are then reviewed and an in-person inspection takes place before an establishment is certified.
It’s “quite a bit of work,” Corrigan noted.
Corrigan said the process is starting Friday and has a goal of being complete by Monday, a tall task when there could be as many as 200 businesses to certify.
If eligible, the plan allows individual counties to implement further safety measures than are already required by local public health orders and guidelines. The payoff for counties that join the program is they will be able to “accelerate their reopening,” according to the state’s plan.
Requirements for businesses to be certified are similar to many of the things required of businesses for county mitigation protocols, but it does include some additional measures.
“I don’t think it will look significantly different for them,” Melton said. “There are just some increased measures, which I think, given the significant disease prevalence in the community currently, those additional measures are probably necessary.”
All businesses would need to have a system in place to track employee symptoms and exposure for the virus as well as screening for symptoms and recording the names and contact information of customers to support contact tracing efforts. This has been previously recommended but would be required for the 5-Star program.
It also requires businesses to take steps to improve poor ventilation, make extra effort to set aside special hours for higher-risk people and display instructions for how people could report a concern to state officials.
Restaurants would be required to space tables 10 feet apart, rather than the 6 feet required previously. They also are encouraged to require reservations, but if they prefer to take walk-in customers, the restaurant needs to have a plan for how to spread out waiting guests.
Businesses also must not have violated a public health order previously to be eligible for the program.
“If we can keep our numbers headed in the right direction, then the path is clear for the restaurants and the other businesses to open up,” Corrigan said. “Without that decline in disease prevalence, we probably won’t get that opportunity.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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