Still lacking support of public health, 5-Star program’s benefits could soon become moot
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to say the county will become eligible for the 5-Star Program on Saturday, unless there is a sudden surge in local cases.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The future of Routt County’s involvement in the 5-Star certification program is again up in the air, as the local administrative committee guiding the effort still needs a letter of support from the Routt County Public Health Department before the application can be completed and submitted to the state.
The program was designed to allow restaurants to operate at higher capacities if they increase certain mitigation efforts and the county’s application is approved by the state.
Since the program was introduced in December, the county has been in a “holding pattern,” said Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman. The county has not been eligible for the program previously because it had level red case metrics while operating with level orange restrictions under the state’s COVID-19 dial. The new Dial 2.0 placed the county within metrics for level orange, making the county eligible for the program after seven days, which would be on Saturday unless there is a sudden surge of cases.
“With the change in the dial, we started to look at things a little differently,” Cowman said. “All of a sudden, we were meeting metrics where as before, we weren’t.”
Cowman said Public Health Director Roberta Smith has been reviewing the application materials, and the county has started looking at timelines for the program. While changes with the dial made the county eligible, it also puts the county much closer to moving even further down the dial in the near future.
“The thing that people are asking is, is the juice worth the squeeze?” Cowman said.
If the administrative committee obtains a letter of support from public health and the program is approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the 34 businesses that have been pre-approved would be allowed to operate at 50% capacity. But a move to level yellow also would allow restaurants to operate at 50% capacity without the program.
Routt County would need to see 76 or fewer cases in a week to be moved to level yellow. The most recent week saw 101 new cases.
“It is possible that in the not too far distant future, our metrics may actually qualify us for yellow level restrictions, and I think that will hasten the need for the conversation if we actually get there,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
Furthermore, 5-Star currently does not have an added benefit at level yellow, because the state will not allow certified restaurants to operate at level blue levels until 70% of 70-year-olds have been vaccinated in the state. While Routt County has vaccinated 70% of those seniors, the state has not.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said the state is on pace to reach 70% vaccination of that group by the end of the month and is currently over two-thirds of the way toward reaching that goal.
“To me, it is sort of up to the administrative committee if they think that the efforts are worth while,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “I know they have put a lot of work into it. I know the businesses that have gotten certified have put a lot of work in to it and are taking it seriously, so I would defer to them.”
More changes to the state COVID-19 dial, which could further loosen restrictions, are expected in March. Melton said she would respect whatever decision the committee makes about whether they feel it makes sense to move forward given the “real possibility that this is a totally moot point by March.”
Melton also said she supports Smith’s assessment of whether it is the right time to allow certified businesses to have larger capacity limits.
Smith said she is making comments on the program’s application reflecting changes that have occurred since it was first written in December. She said they should consider whether it makes sense to endorse the program while also having a stricter public health order in place adding some additional requirements on restaurants.
“This is a program that essentially opens up businesses that qualify to that next level, but we also have a public health order in place that is restricting some of our gatherings and also looking at some of our businesses,” Smith said. “We want to make sure that whatever we do, we are achieving the goal of lowering our case counts and our disease prevalence within our community and scrutinizing programs based on that goal.”
Smith did not specify what she would like to see before providing a letter of support to the program.
Kara Stoller, co-chair of the administrative committee and CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber, said the only two avenues to fewer restrictions for restaurants are lower case counts and the 5-Star program.
“Businesses are committed to the mitigation efforts and would also like to know what avenues are available to operate at less restrictive levels,” Stoller said in an email. “There is still interest in the program, but businesses would like certainty that the program will come to fruition.”
Melton said the sooner public health can give a definitive indication to the committee the better, whether that be submitting the application or having a timeline for submission.
Whether the program moves forward or not, Corrigan said he does not believe it was a waste of time for any businesses that have gone through the process because he feels it has helped decrease transmission in the community.
“I think restaurants really have made an effort to do what they can to control the virus, and we may actually be seeing some of the fruits of that work,” Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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