State considering Garfield County request to deem restaurants as critical under COVID-19 restrictions |

State considering Garfield County request to deem restaurants as critical under COVID-19 restrictions

A sign outside of Downstairs at Eric's in Breckenridge informs visitors Dec. 4 that the restaurant is only offering takeout dining. On Friday, Dec. 11, Garfield County commissioners passed a resolution categorizing restaurants as critical businesses.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is set to test the waters on whether restaurants and certain other business sectors can be deemed “essential,” allowing them to operate at greater capacity than the state’s COVID-19 dial says.

Garfield County commissioners passed a resolution at a special Thursday, Dec. 10, meeting categorizing restaurants, noncritical retail businesses, gyms and fitness centers as “critical.”

The move would allow qualifying businesses to remain in operation at 50% capacity, even in light of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment moving the county to the red category on its COVID-19 dial last week.

“If a business can demonstrate that it is a critical business according to criteria in the state’s public health order, then it is exempt, subject to certain limitations,” state health officials wrote in a statement issued Friday, Dec. 11, after the county declared its intentions.

Under level red, restaurants are to be closed for indoor dining and are limited to carryout, delivery and outdoor dining for household groups only.

With Garfield County’s designation, gyms and fitness centers could continue to operate at 25% capacity, instead of 10% under level red.

“The state is the one that wants to put us here,” Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said during the special meeting. “We can’t stop them, but there are things we can do as county commissioners to try and alleviate this burden. It’s unfair to hammer these people in this way. I do not want to lose more businesses in Garfield County.”

In the meantime, many restaurants in Glenwood Springs and elsewhere in the county did halt indoor dining through the weekend, though there was some confusion following the county’s action.

That prompted the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association to issue a statement Friday, Dec. 11, advising that there’s still a process to go through to get around the restrictions.

“City administration reminds businesses that noncompliance with state public health orders could result in state enforcement including cease and desist orders and suspended business and liquor licenses,” the chamber said in a city of Glenwood Springs news release.

“You may consider consulting your attorney and/or insurance company to evaluate your individual and business risks,” the chamber advised.

In the meantime, the chamber and individual restaurant owners are also working with state health officials to pursue a Five Star “variance protection program,” similar to one that’s been in place in Mesa County since summer.

The program would allow restaurants to meet a higher public health standard in order to operate at a greater capacity than the state dial would otherwise require.

In late November, the state announced that it is developing a draft certification program to give businesses more flexibility in the dial framework if they can meet the higher standard.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said at the meeting that he believes restaurants in particular provide a more supervised and controlled environment, through social distancing, disinfection of dining areas and the use of protective masks by staff and by customers, except when they are eating.

“I’m really proud of how restaurants have operated here in Garfield County,” Jankovsky said.

According to Garfield County Public Health, restaurants have accounted for the second-most COVID-19 outbreaks investigated in the county at 20%.

Independent living, nursing homes and other residential care facilities represent the most, accounting for 32% of outbreaks since March, when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Garfield County.

Construction sites represent the third-highest category of outbreak investigations, at 16%, according to the data.

“Outbreak investigations are primarily employees of the businesses or agencies,” public health officials said in a statement issued in response to questions from the Post Independent. “Outbreaks are two or more positive cases where workplace transmission has been identified.”

However, it is hard to ascertain whether any restaurant patrons became ill with the coronavirus, officials said.

“We would need multiple cases saying that they were at the same restaurant at the same time for us to be able to trace the exposure to a restaurant,” according to the statement. “This is very similar to other communicable disease outbreak investigation processes, where tracing the source of illness can be difficult to determine in individual cases outside of an outbreak.”

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