Summit County officials consider changing alcohol restrictions to align with state
Health director also provides update on COVID-19 variant strain presence in Summit County
Summit County officials are considering updating the county’s 5 Star Business Certification Program to allow certified businesses to have looser alcohol-related restrictions.
At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Jan. 7, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine said fine-dining restaurant owners have been asking the county to allow for alcohol sales as late as 10 p.m., which is the current last call mandated at the state level.
Under level orange, all Summit County restaurants have a mandatory last call on the sale and consumption of alcohol at 9:30 p.m. That means customers are not allowed to have a drink on their table past that time.
While a lot of restaurants are unaffected by the restriction because they close earlier than 9:30 p.m., some fine-dining owners say the time restraint impacts their sales.
“There were some restaurants that participate (in the program) and close before then, but for those who stay open, it’s apparently a pretty significant financial impact since they’re already operating at 25%,” Vaine said.
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Because fine dining often involves a longer, multicourse meal, the restriction limits the ability of the restaurants to get the most out of a reservation. Vaine said those in the dining community were hoping that the county would allow for people who ordered a drink before 9:30 p.m. to keep it on their table until 10 p.m.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson suggested the county provide more flexibility for fine-dining restaurants, specifically. However, County Manager Scott Vargo said it’s difficult to determine what it means to be fine dining.
“We asked the restaurant association to provide us with some sort of a proposal around this topic and to identify what is the distinction that makes a restaurant fine dining versus not,” he said. “I don’t think we should make that up … because whatever we come up with, we’re going to leave somebody out or we’re going to put too many people in.”
Public Health Director Amy Wineland said she is in favor of allowing five-star certified restaurants to allow alcohol to be on the table until 10 p.m.
“We need to award the establishments for going above and beyond,” she said. “I think giving them 30 minutes does that.”
However, Wineland added that the state is considering giving counties that have an incidence rate above 500 new cases per 100,000 people additional mitigation strategies. Wineland is unsure how that might impact the five-star program and the effort to change alcohol sales times.
“If we have this (alcohol restriction) already in place, we can utilize that as our additional mitigation effort,” she said.
As of Saturday, Jan. 10, the county’s incidence rate was at 606.8 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the dial dashboard.
Ultimately, the board decided to continue the conversation at one of its meetings this week, after the county has more information about potential additional mitigation efforts and local restaurant needs.
Virus variant update
Also at the meeting, Wineland presented an update on the county’s case data and prevalence of the variant strain of the virus, which is known as B.1.17.
Since the strain was confirmed in Colorado on Dec. 29, three cases have shown up in the state. Wineland said the new strain has yet to show up in Summit County.
The variant, which is believed to more transmissible but not more deadly than the strain the country has been seeing up to this point, could cause statewide numbers to increase.
“If this variant really takes over, without good transmission control, we’ll be hitting another peak of cases that’s even greater than what we just went through the past couple of months,” Wineland said.
Because of this, people should be even more diligent about wearing masks and avoiding gatherings, Wineland said.
“All of our six commitments work just as well against this new variant to stop the spread,” she said about wearing a mask, washing hands, staying 6 feet apart, getting tested and staying home if sick and getting a flu shot.
Not many labs have the capability to identify the new strain among COVID-19 tests, but Wineland said leaders across the nation are working to increase the number of testing labs that can identify it.
“It’s assumed that it’s been here, and it is here; we just haven’t been able to capture it yet,” she said. “We’ll learn more in the next couple of weeks.”
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