With lives and businesses on the line, Glenwood Springs City Council searches for balance amid COVID-19 pandemic
The lack of a nation-wide COVID-19 plan has people all across the country confused as to which level of governmental authority they ought to be listening to. Glenwood Springs is no different and, like cities across the country, is facing the repercussions on economic stability and minimizing the spread of the virus.
City Council’s discussion Thursday night during a COVID-19 update focused on concerns for residents’ well-being, both financially and health-wise.
“I think we need to take a proactive approach to keeping our businesses open, to keeping people safe … whatever we need to do, the city of Glenwood, I’m behind it,” Councilor Ingrid Wussow said.
As it stands, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has Garfield County at the orange level, which technically applies a 25% capacity limit for restaurants and other types of businesses. County commissioners have said a variance granted back in May allowing businesses to operate at 50% capacity is still being applied in the county.
Part of the City Council conversation mentioned the 5-star program Mesa County implemented starting earlier in the year. That system rewards businesses who adhere to COVID-19 health guidelines and design a comprehensive plan that’s not only approved by the city, but a local health department.
As long as the business follows through on safety measures in place, they have the option to operate at a higher capacity even if the county moves to a more-restrictive level on the COVID-19 color chart.
“Mesa County back in July moved at the time from yellow to orange … those businesses that have been 5-star credited would get to maintain their 50 percent (capacity)… these businesses have been able to keep 50 percent capacity even in the red,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said.
For businesses in Glenwood Springs, it’s now a matter of logging onto the county website and copying and pasting text into the entry fields for a COVID-19 plan before they can print out an announcement that reads they are approved.
Godes said this solution is far from comprehensive since there is nothing in place to hold businesses accountable and no repercussions if they defy these guidelines.
“Every business in Garfield County has to submit a Covid plan,” he said. “It’s just an online, fill-in-the-blank — yes we have tests and we’re doing this stuff, but there’s not really going above and beyond and there’s no follow up and check in if people are. And there’s no consequences if they’re not.”
A majority of councilors expressed support for implementing a Glenwood Springs-specific version of the 5-star program. The only catch is the lack of a municipal public health department to approve the various plans within the city, and Garfield County has indicated it is not willing to implement the 5-start program countywide.
“At the same time, we do not, as (City Manager) Debra (Figueroa) said, have a public health department. We cannot create a new department, a new division of the city out of thin air,” Godes said.
Council discussed contacting the public health nurse for neighboring Eagle County to step in to help launch a similar system, but did not make any definite plans about whether or not this could be possible.
“I am definitely talking to Eagle County about it … I haven’t heard back yet … it wouldn’t be free, this is something we would have to pay for to participate, because we are not in Eagle County,” Figueroa said.
When the discussion opened for comments it was clear that business owners not only are dealing with confusion about requirements of various color levels and what that means for their operations. But many said they also feel unsupported, despite councilors’ concerns about the drastic economic challenges the pandemic poses.
Brittany Rippy, a member of the public virtually attending the video-conference meeting, said small businesses are feeling overlooked by the city.
“Small business wants consistency and fairness across the board … and we don’t really feel like people are fighting for us,” Rippy said. “You guys can put up banners and flags and you can use that same verbiage that you’ve been using for the last number of months, but that’s not going to help your small businesses get through this.”
There were also members of the public who said they felt as though larger businesses were being favored when it came to capacity requirements.
“I haven’t really gotten much help,” Native Son owner Ricky Rodriguez said. “For you guys not to be able to answer these questions right now is disturbing, because we have lots of questions. I mean, our livelihood is at stake…
“None of this sounds fair to me. I’m extremely disappointed.”
The item came to a close without any set plan announced, but members of council reminded the public and each other that shopping locally and ordering takeout from restaurants is another way to help keep businesses open through to the other side of the pandemic.
“Something we can do is shop locally … support them in a way that sustains them through this … we will see the fortitude we can create as a community” Wussow said.
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There are a few extra stories being shared around the tables at the Village Smithy restaurant in Carbondale this week following the death of restaurant founder and longtime community leader Chris Chacos.