Elbert County reaches out to restaurant owners

Committee will help BOCC apply for variance that could allow in-person dining

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 12/29/20

Restaurant owners in Elbert County were invited to join County Commissioner Chris Richardson and Elbert County Public Health Director Dwayne Smith for a Zoom meeting Dec. 17, to discuss whether or …

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Elbert County reaches out to restaurant owners

Committee will help BOCC apply for variance that could allow in-person dining

Posted

Restaurant owners in Elbert County were invited to join County Commissioner Chris Richardson and Elbert County Public Health Director Dwayne Smith for a Zoom meeting Dec. 17, to discuss whether or not they were interested in restoring in-person dining while the county remains at level red-severe risk status on the state’s COVID dial framework.

The informal meeting covered requirements by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for restaurants to apply for the 5-Star business certification program, which would allow restaurants in Elbert County to resume in-person dining if successful.

“This was an initial meeting with our restaurant owner/operators to see the level of interest and determine if this is something the businesses want to pursue,” said Richardson. “I can say that CDPHE was made to do this. They are very clear this was put together grudgingly based on the direction from the governor’s office. There was definitely some turmoil but it appears that local government, chambers of commerce and business associations were successful in fighting for a path to get the most impacted parts of our economy at least partially reopened.”

More than two dozen restaurant owners attended the meeting, and the first order of business was learning how much effort and money they would have to put into meeting the state’s requirements to achieve the certification, and what the benefits would be.

If CDPHE grants the county the certification, restaurants would be able to open in-person dining at the orange-high risk level, which allows for 25% capacity or 50 people. In order to earn the certification, the county would need to see a decline in the number of positive COVID cases over a two-week period, and a committee of business owners and town officials would need to be created to regulate businesses involved.

Although the program forbids municipalities from contributing any public health funds, Richardson said the county would do everything it could outside of finances to support restaurant owners.

“It would be great to have multiple business owners on the committee,” said Richardson. “I know these restrictions impact you greatly, and having restaurant involved with creating the program will help. It will be an effort led by you, and you will have town support.”

Changes required in the way restaurants do business include table distances being 10 feet apart, rather than six, checking employees daily for symptoms, getting information from customers for contact tracing, improving ventilation using air filters or opening windows, and the administrative committee must provide a way for customers to register comments or complaints, then follow up with action toward the restaurant owner. Each restaurant would also need a third-party inspection to ensure they are following protocol.

While opening in-person dining would benefit restaurants, some owners questioned whether it was worth the extra time and expense to obtain the certification.

“How far are we looking before we get back into orange?” asked Holly Figueroa with the Sawmill Bar and Grill. “Instead of doing all this extra stuff at a cost to restaurants that are not making money anyway?”

Figueroa also expressed concern that customers are not going to be happy about giving personal information.

“I don’t think our county’s going to be receptive to tracing,” she said. “Contact tracing becomes personal, and some are going to be mad.”

Smith addressed the question of waiting it out until the county goes back to the orange level.

“It’s tough to predict, we have the unknown variable of how folks will respond to Christmas holiday,” said Smith. “Will infections spike after the holidays? Looking at the current dashboard, to be in orange we would need to be less than 350 cases per 100,000 population. We’re not going to hit that for a long time.”

Concerns over the cost of purchasing required air filters, thermometers to check temperatures and any future CARES Act funding were also expressed. Owners exchanged ideas on contact tracing and who the third-party inspector would be.

Some owners expressed concern about what would happen if they didn’t want to participate in the program.

“If we do not go on this program because we don’t want to put our customers at risk, how does that make us look?” asked an owner from the Simla area. “We have such a political divide because of the virus. We have a county next to us that’s not doing anything about it, and we get a lot of backlash because we are doing something about it.”

Richardson assured all owners that their decision whether to participate or not would be theirs to make, and would be supported by the county.

“Individually, if you take advantage or not, that’s going to be an individual decision,” he said. “We respect your position in your community and we would never ask you to put yourselves in danger.”

The owners of Patty Ann’s Cafe, The Sawmill Bar and Grill, Bernie’s and South Forty said they would be willing to be part of the administrative committee. The Elizabeth Chamber also asked to be part of the initial committee. They will meet again after the holidays to begin the process of seeking a 5-Star certification.

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