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It comes just as we enter the Memorial Day weekend; Chaffee County Public Health received word this afternoon that the variance request submitted to the State of Colorado to begin to reopen critical aspects of the local economy has been approved.

Starting tomorrow, May 22, based on meeting the variance approval requirements, the following categories are allowed to reopen: restaurants; places of worship; gyms, including a bowling alley; and outdoor recreation, including campgrounds and RV parks, outfitters and hot springs. (Motels and hotels have continued to operate under the critical business aspects of the state’s initial Stay-at-Home orders, as well as the current “Safer at Home” dictates).

While some in the group wanted the variance to be effective immediately, the Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners clarified it: “This is effective tomorrow – NOT today.”

In all settings, the following requirements must be met:

  • Customers or patrons should be asked about symptoms before entering or participating in the activity, and service or participation should be declined if they are symptomatic.
  • Employees must be screened for symptoms each day before beginning work, and those who are symptomatic must be excluded and required to remain in isolation for 10 days, per CDC guidance. For restaurants, the following additional requirements apply:
  • Indoor seating capacity shall not exceed 30 percent of seating capacity, not to exceed 50 people, whichever is lower.
  • Tables shall be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Bars are to remain closed, including those that are part of a restaurant.
  • [The state] Recommends that the sign posted at the door is the CDC sign (also available in Spanish) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/316129-B-StayHomeFromWork_ Poster.pdf

Also allowed will be restaurants, tasting rooms, wineries, and distilleries, as long as they “function like restaurants”. The variance does not include any social mingling activity, and bars will not be allowed to reopen at this time. Discerning the state’s intent did involve discussion during the county COVID Roundtable earlier today, following a call with Governor Polis.

“The governor said on the call that just ended that he would interpret a restaurant to be an establishment that acted like a restaurant where you sit, while a bar is a place where you go for social mingling,” said Salida Mayor P.T. Wood. “Social mingling isn’t allowed at this point. He said he would treat tasting rooms like restaurants if they acted like restaurants.”

In a county where hot springs are a big deal, public health will be enforcing a 10 person per [private] pool limit at this time, only for locals and their guests. Public hot springs are subject to the occupancy percentages.

Governor Jared Polis is expected to make a major announcement on the evening of May 25, which may or may not further loosen the variance rules. In fact, in some categories, the state is still working up the final state standards, leading Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom to say that we may continue to see refinements.

Chaffee County submitted a 12-page variance application and waited 13 days for an answer, as the state worked through more than two dozen variance requests in a methodical process.

“ I appreciate your thoughtful approach to these challenging issues, and wish you all the best in your continuing efforts to ensure that Chaffee County residents are safe and healthy as we deal with this global pandemic,” said Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan.

The reopening progress comes with a caution. “ If we have 20 or more positive cases/week, we may consider having to add some restrictions – some guardrails – to get our case rates lower, said Carlstrom. “I’m quite surprised we got all of this approved. As we go along, I’m quite sure we’ll have lessons learned. We might have course corrections.”

Carlstrom, who said the county is currently working on one new COVID case in the county; a person from outside who came here, had this to say: “We aren’t out of the woods. Take this seriously. When we see people coming from other areas, we are going to be vulnerable to that. Please practice social distancing and wear your facemasks. That’s what’s going to keep us from transmitting it throughout our county.”

The effort to prepare and submit the variance involved dozens of county entities working with industry category subject matter experts and Carlstrom was quick to credit them. “This has been a team effort. I never wanted the role of micromanaging our community. We are empowering our community to do the right thing….to keep our residents and guests safe.”

Featured image: Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Chaffee County Variance Decision