No 5 Star variance until Colorado reaches 70% vaccination goal for 70+
Restaurants happy for looser Yellow Level limits
Garfield County’s move to Level Yellow on the state’s COVID-19 dial last week puts local efforts to create a 5 Star program for restaurants to operate at greater capacity on the back burner — for now, anyway.
Under the county’s 5 Star variance approved by the state recently, restaurants could apply to operate one level up on the dial, if they agreed to follow more-stringent safety precautions to help prevent disease spread.
However, until the state achieves its goal of administering the COVID-19 vaccination to 70% of residents over age 70, Level Yellow is as high as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will allow counties to go in terms of business operations, Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said.
The state has indicated it’s on track to reach that goal by the end of February, she said.
“With the updates in the state dial and level change for Garfield County, the 5 Star Administration Committee is pressing pause on the program,” Godes announced in a Tuesday update on the county’s latest COVID-19 data. “The committee will continue to evaluate the community’s need for the program should county dial levels change.
“The committee wishes to thank everyone involved in creating the program and getting it approved so that it can be used
in the future if it is needed.”
In the meantime, businesses wanting more information about the program are asked to contact their local chamber of commerce.
For restaurants, the difference between Yellow and the next level up, Blue, is fairly negligible.
The indoor capacity limit is the same under both restriction levels, at 50%, but last call for alcohol sales does change from 11 p.m. under Yellow to midnight under Blue.
Restaurants can also admit up to 175 people indoors based on floor space under Level Blue — as opposed to 150 under Yellow — but few if any restaurants in Garfield County are that large.
Restaurant operators were happy to be able to go from seating just 25% of capacity under the county’s former Level Orange restrictions.
But many restaurants are still seeing smaller numbers of sit-down customers, even as the county’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to improve.
“It’s good. Any improvement from where we were is better,” Jake Behlow, manager at White House Pizza in Carbondale, said of the increase in capacity allowances.
Even at 25%, though, he said it was rare that they would reach that limit at any given time.
At 50% indoor capacity, the restaurant could probably seat around 40 people at a time, he said.
“Because of our table spacing and a lot of two-tops, it works,” he said. “We’re definitely not as busy as last year at this time, though.”
Behlow said White House has looked at the 5 Star variance option, but the extra public health requirements, including tracking customer information for contact tracing purposes, might be more of a burden than it’s worth.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do to keep the business alive, though,” he said.
Data tracking change made
The move to Level Yellow also changed the way Garfield County reports its COVID-19 data. Instead of tracking the total case count and incidence rate at 14-day intervals, those numbers are now tracked and reported over seven days, Godes explained.
“The CDPHE said that this move to 7-day intervals allows for quicker response times if a county needs to be moved to a different dial level,” she said.
Per CDPHE’s explanation, it also is “striking a balance between mitigating virus spread and economic hardships that businesses face under regulations.”
To remain at Level Yellow, counties must now have an incidence rate of between 100 and 300 cases per 100,000 people over one week’s time, and its test positivity rate cannot exceed 7.5%.
As of Tuesday, Garfield County had an incidence rate of 142.9, and a test positivity rate of 5.4%.
Per the weekly report, the county still had just two confirmed cases of the new UK variant and four suspect cases. County and state officials reported in late January that they were investigating possible exposure at a Glenwood Springs school to someone who had tested positive for the new COVID-19 strain.
“The confirmed and suspected cases are associated with one another due to family and work relationships,” Godes said on Tuesday.
Godes added that the state is only able to randomly test for the variant, since not all of the labs the state uses are capable of doing variant sequencing in their testing.
“Random specimens are being tested from around the state,” she said. “However, CDPHE is ramping up sequencing capabilities and has been working with areas that are asking for additional sequencing when a variant is suspected.”
Godes said the CDPHE estimates it can send about 300 specimens through sequencing per week, and it takes up to a week and a half for those results to come back.
Colorado’s lab was the first in the United States to detect the UK variant earlier this year.
As of Monday, Garfield County’s two hospitals, Valley View and Grand River, along with Mountain Family Health Center and Garfield Public Health, had administered 9,319 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A total of 7,075 residents have received a first dose of the vaccine, and 2,244 have received their second dose. Garfield County has also vaccinated 78.4% of its 4,598 residents who are age 70 and older.
This week, the state expanded the vaccine priority group to include those age 65 and older, as well as eligible preschool and K-12 teachers and staff.
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