Garfield County declines voluntary move to ’Red’ COVID restrictions to qualify for business assistance funds
State could act anyway, leaving it up to municipalities and individual businesses
Garfield County commissioners will not voluntarily move the county to the more-stringent Severe Risk level of COVID-19 restrictions that would allow small businesses to take advantage of new relief grants being offered by the state.
But that may be a moot point for local municipalities and businesses that still want to participate.
As soon as this week, the state could move Garfield County to Red on its COVID-19 dial. That would mean municipalities and qualifying businesses can act on their own to apply for assistance grants of up to $7,000, so long as they abide by the stricter rules.
If the state doesn’t make that move, municipalities can still act on their own to adopt the Red Level restrictions and qualify for the assistance program.
Doing so could mean closing restaurants for indoor dining, but continuing to allow take-out and open-air outdoor dining with groups limited to family units only. Last call for alcohol sales would also move from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. under the Red level restrictions.
Under the county’s application of the current restrictions, restaurants can still operate at 50% of indoor capacity, with spacing allowances depending on building size.
Municipalities could still adopt the stricter standards in any case.
During their regular meeting Monday, though, county commissioners unanimously decided to remain at the current modified Yellow/Orange Level (Concern-High Risk) restrictions, as a matter of countywide policy.
“We do have the discretionary authority to make policy decisions,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, taking issue with representations in a Post Independent article last week that the county was in a “standoff” with the state over COVID restrictions.
“We’re not in a standoff,” he said, asserting that the county does have some discretion on the matter.
Regarding the stricter measures, “These lockdowns just hurt the poor and the middle class, and those who work in these restaurants and other businesses,” Jankovsky added. “I don’t see the benefit on the other side of it (in terms of limiting virus spread).”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) could very well move Garfield County to the Red (Severe Risk) level based on the recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases and trends in disease spread locally.
“Our numbers put us in the Red,” County Attorney Tari Williams said, advising that the commissioners reach out to the six municipalities to let them know they can go it alone with tighter restrictions, if they choose.
In order to implement the provisions of the special session Senate Bill 20B-001 (COVID-19 Relief for Small and Minority Businesses and Arts Organizations) approved last week, a county would have to be designated to be at the Red level on the dial by Thursday, Williams explained.
Local governments would then have to be in compliance with the tighter restrictions by Dec. 31 in order to receive the funds through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and distribute them to qualifying businesses after the first of the year, she said.
Under the program, one-time assistance payments of between $3,000 and $7,000 are available, depending on business size based on gross receipts and how long they’ve been in operation, as well as other qualifying provisions.
In addition to the restaurant restrictions, gyms and fitness centers would have to limit capacity to 10%, or 10 people per room, and indoor special events would be prohibited.
Personal gatherings would also be prohibited, rather than allowed at the 10-person limit now in effect, and churches may have to limit capacity. However, the state has indicated that maximum capacity limits for churches may be lifted through the upcoming religious holidays.
County commissioners said they felt few businesses would find value in the assistance grant amounts, especially if they have to close or severely limit business operations for lengthy periods of time.
“I don’t think a one-time grant for two or three months is going to make a difference,” Commission Chairman John Martin said. “That ($3,000 to $7,000) is not going to pay the rent, utilities and employees.”
If the municipalities or individuals decide to participate, that’s up to them, he said.
“They have the ability to make that decision themselves,” Jankovsky added.
Glenwood Springs City Council had a long discussion at its meeting last week about how to proceed, and whether to adopt the tighter restrictions. No decisions were made.
City Manager Debra Figueroa said Monday a lot depends on whether the state moves the county to Red. That could trigger some actions by council.
In the meantime, she said the city is working with the Glenwood Chamber foundation to administer the remaining $115,000 in federal CARES Act assistance funds to local restaurants and other qualifying businesses.
Carbondale’s town trustees are also slated to talk about the recent state legislation regarding COVID relief at their Tuesday night meeting.
“We are waiting for some more information and clarification from the state health department and the Department of Local Affairs before we take any official action,” Town Manager Jay Harrington said. “We have not had any direct notification from the state on the status of Garfield County, nor the details on how the pending grant program will be administered.”
Reiterating that they believe most Garfield County restaurants and businesses are acting responsibly to help control the spread of the virus, commissioners on Monday also allocated $10,000 to support the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association’s “United to Stop the Spread” campaign.
The public relations campaign is aimed at using the voices of business owners and civic leaders to share messages about making good personal choices and following public health precautions, such as mask wearing, distancing and good hygiene, to limit disease spread and protect the vulnerable.
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