Summit County Restaurants To Resume Indoor Dining, As State Approves Entry Into '5-Star' Program
Colorado has started scaling up a program that allows local businesses struggling under the weight of Level Red coronavirus restrictions to apply for permission to operate at a lower level of the state’s COVID-19 dial.
In a Friday news conference, Gov. Jared Polis announced the Department of Public Health and Environment had approved its first application—Summit County’s—to enter its so-called “5-star program.” It gives local public health officials the power to award special certifications to businesses that go all-out with safety precautions, which in turn allow them to operate with looser restrictions than others.
“We know that many local businesses have felt the impact of capacity restrictions,” Polis said. “This is a way to reward businesses that have gone above and beyond.”
Summit County’s green light means the local public health department can begin site inspections at businesses this weekend, Polis said. Under the plan, some restaurants could reopen for in-person dining as soon as Saturday.
More counties are expected to gain entry to the program in the coming days. Polis said he expects Larimer County could move forward with its version of a 5-star program by “next Wednesday.”
“It is a very reasonable, safe, quick pathway to helping have some in-person dining soon,” Polis said about the program.
To gain entry, counties must meet a strict set of requirements. Each county must set up an administrative committee to oversee 5-star certifications. The committee then needs to determine how it will enforce program requirements, and lay out a way to report progress back to the local health department and CDPHE.
Counties must also have fewer than 90% of their ICU beds in use and a two-week sustained decline in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.
Requirements for businesses to be certified as “5-star” vary between industries.
For example, restaurants must keep dining tables at least 10 feet apart, monitor employees for symptoms every day and collect customer information for contact tracing efforts. Gyms must create reservation systems if they don’t already have one.
A full list of requirements for gyms, restaurants, personal services and indoor and outdoor events is available online.
Once a business gains access, it can function at a notch lower on Colorado’s COVID-19 dial than their county’s current status. So if a county is at Level Red, for example, a 5-star business can operate under Level Orange.
The new program is modeled after one piloted by Mesa County last summer, which has enrolled hundreds of local businesses.
The effort to expand the program beyond Mesa took off shortly after Colorado moved dozens of counties to Level Red restrictions in late November. The decision sent many local businesses into a panic.
In Larimer County, a group of business owners in Loveland openly rebelled against the restrictions, pledging to remain open under Level Yellow restrictions instead. Many have since backed off after receiving threats from local liquor licensing authorities.
Morgen Harrington, co-owner of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, was one of the owners. She said the state’s progress on Friday was a promising sign.
“We don’t want people to lose hope,” she said. “I wish it came faster, but at least if they can hold on for another few weeks, something’s coming.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment said its COVID-19 case numbers and positivity rates were declining, but still too high to qualify for the state’s program.
“We want our businesses operating at the safest capacity possible,” said Tom Gonzales, Larimer’s public health director. “The more we continue to follow the protective measures and guidance the closer we can get to achieving the required metrics to receive approval from the state.”
The state’s new program is voluntary.
Weld County, which has consistently told residents to take “personal responsibility” and determine coronavirus restrictions for themselves, hasn’t indicated any interest in participating.
In Boulder County, public health officials said they didn’t have the bandwidth to take on the administration of a local 5-star program.
“Because public health agencies are being asked to achieve demanding and historic objectives with a high burden of contact tracing and disease control, and to distribute vaccine at a level never before required in such a short amount of time, the program will not be administered or coordinated by Boulder County Public Health,” the department said in a statement on Thursday. “If the Boulder County community chooses to move forward with the program, Boulder County Public Health will participate as a member of the administrative committee, but another entity would organize and be responsible for the program.”
In his press conference Friday, Gov. Polis encouraged Coloradans to visit local businesses during the upcoming holidays regardless of whether their county chooses to participate in the new 5-star program.
“Do takeout, delivery, eat outdoors,” Polis said. “It’s a great way to support our iconic local businesses.”