State considering Garfield County request to deem restaurants, other sectors as critical under COVID-19 restrictions
Commissioners may revisit resolution at Monday morning meeting
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.
County commissioners on Monday morning may review any changes to a resolution passed at a special 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 (CDPHE) 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,” CDPHE said in a statement issued Friday, after the county declared its intentions.
The state moved Garfield County to level red, or “severe risk” for spread of COVID-19 based on the latest trends in local case counts, from level orange, or “high risk.” The new restrictions went into effect at 5 p.m. Dec. 10.
That meant restaurants are to be closed for indoor dining and are limited to carryout, delivery and outdoor/open air dining for household groups only. The county designation would also allow last call for alcohol sales to remain at 10 p.m., instead of 8 p.m. under the red-level restrictions.
Gyms and fitness centers, with the county designation, could continue to operate at 25% capacity, instead of 10% under level red.
“The state is the one that wants to put us here,” County Commissioner Mike Samson said during the Dec. 10 special meeting that was called ahead of the new restrictions going into effect.
“We can’t stop them, but there are things we can do as county commissioners to try and alleviate this burden,” Samson said. “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 advising that there’s still a process to go through to get around the restrictions.
The chamber in its note said, as per the city of Glenwood Springs’ Dec. 10 press release, “City administration reminds businesses that non-compliance with state public health orders could result in state enforcement including cease and desist orders and suspended business and liquor licenses.”
“You may consider consulting your attorney and/or insurance company to evaluate your individual and business risks,” the chamber also advised.
In the meantime, the chamber and individual restaurant owners are also working with the CDPHE to pursue a 5-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.
County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said at the Dec. 10 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 GCPH data.
“Outbreak investigations are primarily employees of the businesses or agencies,” GCPH 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, it 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 sent by Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes. “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.”
The Monday regular county commissioners meeting begins at 8 a.m. and can be viewed online via Zoom. The link can be found on the county website, at garfield-county.com
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