Colorado will give counties ability to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on businesses that meet safety thresholds
Colorado public health officials this week unveiled a new program to let participating counties offer restaurants and other businesses a path to expand their capacities beyond the limits set by their county’s color level on the COVID-19 restriction dial.
The new 5 Star State Certification Program “requires businesses certified through the program to implement safety measures beyond what is already required by public health orders and guidelines,” according to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment news release.
“Depending on the county’s level and metrics, certified businesses may be eligible for less-restrictive capacity caps,” state health officials said.
For counties that meet the state’s requirements to participate, the program offers a framework to allow businesses that meet certain health and safety conditions to operate under less-restrictive rules.
For example, a county at Level Red — like Denver and the rest of the Front Range — could only patriciate after a two-week sustained drop in new infections and hospitalizations, along with a falling positivity rate.
Then, certified businesses would be allowed to operate under Level Orange’s capacity limits — meaning, in this case, that restaurants that had been forced to close indoor dining under Level Red could resume service inside at 25% capacity or up to 50 people.
To be certified, businesses including restaurants and gyms would need to implement measures such as conducting daily symptom and exposure checks of employees, recording their customers’ names and contact information for disease tracing purposes, and, in many cases, requiring all customers make reservations.
The program, which is voluntary, was piloted in Mesa County and is now going statewide.
Eligibility and capacity levels are dependent on the county’s current COVID-19 dial level:
- Counties in Level Green have an automatic capacity increase in the Protect Our Neighbors framework
- Counties in Level Blue are eligible if county case incidence, percent positivity and hospitalizations all meet the blue level. If approved, certified businesses can operate with an additional 50 people added to their cap.
- Counties in Level Yellow are eligible if county case incidence, percent positivity and hospitalizations all meet the yellow level. If approved, certified businesses can operate at Level Blue capacity limits.
- Counties in Level Orange are eligible if county case incidence, percent positivity and hospitalizations all meet the orange level. If approved, certified businesses can operate at Level Yellow capacity limits.
- Counties in Level Red are eligible only if the county has had a two-week sustained decline in case incidence, percent positivity and hospitalizations. If approved, certified businesses can operate at Level Orange capacity limits.
- Counties in Level Purple are not eligible for the variance program.
“If a county sees a significant rise in cases or hospitalizations, then the program may be suspended,” the health department said.
If a region reaches more than 90% of intensive care unit capacity in its hospitals, the suspension will be automatic.
The state health department received more than 980 public comments and engaged in multiple stakeholder meetings with local governments, local public health officials and business communities in formulating the program.
Applications from counties will be accepted starting Friday. On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that Denver will seek to participate in the program.
Morgen Harrington, co-owner of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, is part of a small-business coalition in Larimer County that worked with local officials there toward variances from state-ordered COVID-19 restrictions.
“With this program being very similar to our level of programming, it makes sense in terms of policy for small businesses,” Harrington said. “It’s great that we all seem to have come to the same conclusion, we need another option for handling the pandemic and keeping small businesses alive. This is a positive step.”
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