Summit County moves into level orange as COVID-19 numbers decrease by half
Some businesses opt to keep 5-star certification amid restriction changes
Summit County, along with other Colorado counties that previously were in level red, saw reduced restrictions after moving to level orange Monday at the direction of Gov. Jared Polis.
The Summit Chamber of Commerce hosted a town hall Monday to discuss the move, which includes capacity changes for businesses.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the county’s COVID-19 incidence rate has dropped by half since cases peaked at the end of November, but the figure is still double what level orange allows. As of Wednesday, Dec. 30, Summit County’s case number had dropped to 723.2 new cases per 100,000 people. That is down 50% from the peak of 1,352 new cases per 100,000 people. Lawrence stated that the goal for the county is to get case numbers down to level orange metrics, which is no more than 350 new cases per 100,000 people.
“As 2021 starts off, it really is in a positive way for us here in Summit County,” Lawrence said. “We have a message of hope … as virus numbers are going down and as vaccine numbers are going up.”
Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland discussed the economic impact of moving to level orange, which loosens restrictions on businesses. People are now allowed to gather among two households and up to 10 people, which means restaurants can seat tables and lodging companies can book units with two households instead of one. Indoor dining, offices, gyms and fitness centers, and indoor and outdoor events move to 25% capacity.
“We’re all thrilled with where we are right now,” Wineland said. “This is such great news that we’re able to move into level orange for all of you in the business industry. … We wish we could be lessening more, and hopefully we will get to that point. But today, we’ll just be happy with moving to level orange. We know we can get to yellow and blue and hopefully green in the next few months, but we’re definitely on the right track.”
Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said Summit County’s 5 Star Business Certification Program will change now that all restaurants can reopen to indoor dining at 25% capacity. Hendershott encouraged businesses to keep up the five-star safety protocols and said the certification is being used as a marketing strategy for businesses to show that they have additional safety protocols in place.
“If you’re going to continue to advertise your facility as five star, you need to be diligent with maintaining these precautions,” Hendershott said. “We’ll still be doing spot checks at these facilities to make sure that you are, and if you’re not following them, then you could be cited for that and no longer be eligible for five-star for 30-60 days if your certificate is eventually revoked.
“If you choose not to participate in the five-star program anymore, which we discourage, you must let us know so that we can take you off the list, so you’re no longer falsely advertising your facility, and remove the certificates and permit from your facility.”
When the county’s case numbers reach level orange metrics, five-star certified businesses will be permitted to open at 50%, the capacity allowed under level yellow. Hendershott said the five-star committee will be meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6, to sort out discrepancies between five-star permits and level orange requirements.
Jonny Greco, owner of Greco’s Pastaria, said the restaurant plans to keep its five-star certification so that it will be a smooth transition when certified restaurants have the opportunity to move to level yellow capacity limits. With the change in required table spacing from 10 feet down to 6 feet, Greco said staff members moved the tables and were able to add some extra seats for patrons. At 25% capacity, the restaurant can seat 32 guests.
As part of the five-star program, Greco said the restaurant is keeping up practices like recording the contact information of guests in case of an outbreak. While there has been some pushback from guests regarding the five-star rules, he said there also has been positive feedback from guests about the cleanliness of the restaurant.
“We’re excited to hopefully get to yellow,” Greco said about capacity limits. “We know all the metrics, we understand them, but obviously the faster we’re able to get to increased capacity, the faster we’re going to be able to catch up on our losses.”
Pinna Gallant, owner of Peak Yoga, said the yoga studio also plans to keep its five-star certification. In addition to the opportunity to eventually move to level yellow restrictions, Gallant said there are students who will feel more comfortable if the studio continues five-star protocols.
Gallant said the studio already had implemented many of the five-star protocols and only needed to add symptom screenings for students and temperature checks for employees.
“For us, it’s a really efficient process,” Gallant said.
Gallant noted that while she would welcome the opportunity to move to level yellow, the studio is offering online classes, which many students prefer. It also allows Peak Yoga to offer classes to more students than it could in the studio.
Editor’s note: This has been updated to include additional information about scheduling appointments.
Summit County is expecting another 600 vaccine doses this week and has scheduled additional drive-thru vaccine clinics.
The county is only vaccinating health care workers, first responders and residents ages 70 and older, in accordance with the state’s plan for vaccine prioritization.
The next group, which includes essential workers like teachers and grocery store clerks, won’t be vaccinated until the county receives approval from the state health department, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said.
Wineland noted that the state’s dial framework and associated restrictions, as well as quarantine and isolation protocols, could change as more people are vaccinated.
Senior Environmental Health Specialist Steve Prosise said it can take up to two weeks after someone receives the second dose of the vaccine for the individual to experience protection against the virus.
Prosise said public health officials are hopeful that a fully vaccinated individual won’t have to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19. However, he said there will be a lot of unknowns until guidance is given by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
He added that anyone who develops symptoms of the virus, regardless of vaccination status, should isolate themselves.
Wineland noted that hospital staff members who received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will get their second dose this week.
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