Summit County officials wary of state program that could allow some businesses to reopen under level red
Businesses that have been hardest hit by novel coronavirus restrictions could find some relief in the form of Colorado’s new Five Star Certification program.
The program allows businesses that demonstrate a commitment to COVID-19 guidelines to apply for a variance, which would allow for them to operate with looser restrictions than the current level allows.
To apply for the program, businesses will be able to submit a written plan detailing how they are implementing or exceeding state and local prevention guidelines and how they will ensure compliance and enforcement, similar to the physical-distancing protocol form that Summit County businesses already are required to complete.
Mesa County piloted the program in July. Since then, over 200 Mesa County businesses have applied, according to the Grand Junction Sentinel. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now looking to implement the program across the state.
According to the state’s draft framework, counties in levels blue through orange will be able to use the program. Through Dec. 11, the state will be reviewing two weeks of data from Mesa County to see how the program impacts counties in level red.
Based on those results and feedback from the community, the state will finalize the framework for the new program by Dec. 14, according to the plan.
Public health officials have maintained that restaurants and bars generate spread of the virus.
“It’s clear when you do tracing about where you get these kinds of outbreaks it’s bars (and) indoor seating at a restaurant — particularly at full capacity,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s lead infectious disease expert, said at a news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Although no decision has been made, Summit County officials have made it clear they’re wary of moving forward with the program while the county is in level red.
“When you get into orange or yellow, being able to provide some additional relaxation or restrictions may make a bit more sense,” County Manager Scott Vargo said at a Board of Health meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3. “But when you are in red, and sort of firmly in red as we have been for a while … it flies in the face of the concept behind the dial, and it flies in the face of some of the public health mitigation efforts that are being taken.”
At the meeting, officials shared concerns about Mesa County being the pilot for the program. The county was in the protect-our-neighbors phase of reopening this summer and has since moved into level red.
“The program has not decreased the spread of the virus there,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said. “It’s a challenge; it’s a challenge to navigate and balance economic need versus protecting the health of our community.”
While the program doesn’t prevent the spread of the virus, it will help ease the economic stressors on local businesses.
For restaurant owners, the program could mean having their businesses open during the busiest time of the year. Teryn Guadagnoli, who owns Modis in Breckenridge, said she has been pushing for the county to implement the program since it was announced.
“There’s got to come a breaking point where our county stands up for us,” Guadagnoli said. “I’m not asking them to defy the state guidelines. … We’re just asking if there is a viable solution, they do whatever they can to get it implemented in Summit County.”
Guadagnoli said it has been a stressful time to be in the restaurant industry, as current restrictions prohibit indoor dining and implement a last call at 8 p.m.
“It would be devastating to our community, as a resort town, to not have restaurants be able to seat indoor dining during the Christmas holiday,” she said. “People are going to start canceling their vacations. People are getting very, very angry. They’re not taking it out on the county commissioners; they’re not taking it out on the health department; they’re taking it out on us.”
At the meeting, Wineland also shared concerns with the written plan requirements in the current framework, as they fall in line with what Summit County has been requiring as a bare minimum from businesses since it went into the safer-at-home level in the spring.
“These are mitigation strategies that every business should be doing, not just to get a certification,” she said.
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