Garfield County to seek state waiver to allow restaurants, other businesses to reopen
Shooters Grill has already begun serving customers at 30% capacity
Garfield County will seek a variance to allow restaurants in the county to reopen at 25% capacity for dining in, possibly as soon as Friday, if approved by state public health officials.
But at least one Garfield County restaurant isn’t waiting.
Appearing in person in front of the three county commissioners and a handful of county staff, Shooters Grill in Rifle owner Lauren Boebert said during Monday’s county commissioners meeting that she already opened her doors to customers last week.
“I am serving people inside at 30% capacity right now,” she announced, acknowledging she is doing so in defiance of the state’s public health orders until the county is granted a variance, but with social distancing and other precautions in place.
“If other people choose to not fully open their business, they can do so … but we’re done. … I don’t want government handouts or a stimulus check, I want to get back to work.”
Boebert — also a Republican candidate for Congress challenging incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the June primary — joined other western Garfield County business owners and one elected town official in urging the commissioners to immediately seek a variance allowing the county to loosen statewide restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Silt Trustee Sam Walls said he believes the initial coronavirus scare has passed, and Garfield County’s numbers don’t support continued business shutdowns.
“As a state, we are being put underneath one rule, and our communities may not fit that rule,” Walls said. “At some point, we have to be allowed to make our own choice.”
Others who spoke noted that neighboring Mesa and Eagle counties have been allowed to reopen to a greater extent than state health orders allow.
Commissioners were sharply criticized for waiting longer than the other nearby counties to seek a variance.
Mesa County restaurants have since been allowed to reopen at 30% capacity. Eagle County was more limited to begin with and is now on the same track to reopen restaurants and other businesses as Garfield County, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted during the Monday meeting.
With the support of county Public Health Director Yvonne Long, commissioners agreed they want to “fast-track” the request, in particular to allow restaurants the ability to reopen at limited capacity by this coming weekend, if possible.
Jankovsky suggested 25% building capacity for restaurants as a starting point, plus the ability to have outdoor seating with proper social distancing.
“I don’t want to have to wait to negotiate on our waiver,” Jankovsky said of the 25% request, as opposed to allowing greater capacity to start.
The variance request will also address other types of businesses, such as gyms and the county’s only bowling alley in Rifle; with the required COVID-19 operating plan to be submitted to the county.
However, Jankovsky said he would prefer that tourist-oriented businesses, such as the two Glenwood hot springs businesses and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, be addressed separately.
“I don’t want us to get rejected on just those and affect everyone else,” he said.
To date, Long said about 600 such business plans have been reviewed by Public Health for businesses that were allowed to open on May 4, with restrictions.
“Public health is more than ready to move forward” with a variance request, Long said. “We are continuing to show a decline in the number of cases, which we’re happy to see … we are feeling pretty optimistic.”
But a reopening of restaurants at 100% capacity is not something that’s likely to be approved by state officials, she agreed.
Boebert said she doesn’t believe the county’s COVID-19 data (110 cases and two deaths as of Monday, out of a population of some 65,000 people) supports continued business shutdowns.
Even at 100% capacity, she said the proper precautions can and are being taken.
“There is civil unrest already, and there will be civil disobedience, and there’s not much you can do about that,” Boebert said.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes also spoke via phone during the meeting, saying what Shooters is doing is “recklessly irresponsible.”
He also called out the commissioners for not maintaining social-distancing protocols in their meeting set-up — which the commissioners worked to rectify during a break.
“It’s easy to overreact to some of the information that’s out there … and I think you’ve taken a good path of not overreacting,” Godes said.
He said Glenwood Springs may want to have discussions of its own before deciding how best to reopen for business.
“Glenwood Springs is a tourist destination … and it’s hard to treat Glenwood Springs and Carbondale in the same light as (the rest of the county),” Godes said. “It’s something we will look at as a council … and see if we need to be a little more conscientious about what we’re doing.”
Also weighing in during the meeting was Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park owner Steve Beckley.
“We are anxious to get open again,” Beckley said, adding the Caverns and Iron Mountain operations have both submitted reopening plans to state and county health officials.
For the Adventure Park, plans call for restricting the number of people in the gondola that’s used to access the park, and regular sanitizing of the tram cars, as well as establishing ticket purchase times for customers to limit crowding at the ticket window.
The park itself, which sits on 10 acres, is to be limited to 50% capacity, Beckley said.
At the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, guests would be required to book their visit time online and capacity is to be reduced to 40%. People can change in the locker rooms, he said, but instead of using the lockers, there would be cubbies at each pool site for people to take their belongings with them outside.
“We believe it will be a better experience for our guests, because there will be fewer people,” Beckley said.
Editor’s note: This story has been modified from the original version to correct a reference made by Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes in his comments to the county commissioners.
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The Valley Health Alliance invites small businesses and individuals who buy health insurance to Health Insurance 2022, a virtual panel and Q&A event set for 12-1 p.m. Wednesday.