Sudden rule change upends Five Star work in Elbert County

Frustration over COVID-19 rules is result as expenses made no difference

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 1/12/21

On Dec. 17, nearly two dozen Elbert County business owners attended a Zoom meeting to discuss how local restaurants might be able to open their doors again for in-person dining. The county had been …

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Sudden rule change upends Five Star work in Elbert County

Frustration over COVID-19 rules is result as expenses made no difference

Posted

On Dec. 17, nearly two dozen Elbert County business owners attended a Zoom meeting to discuss how local restaurants might be able to open their doors again for in-person dining. The county had been designated level red on the COVID-19 metric due to increasing positive cases in the county, and the designation prompted the closing of in-person dining at restaurants.

During the hourlong meeting, restaurant owners, Elbert County Commissioner Chris Richardson and Elbert County Department of Health Director Dwayne Smith carved out a plan to apply for Colorado’s Five Star certification program, which, if approved, would allow restaurants to reopen at 25 percent capacity, or 50 people.

To be approved for the Five Star variance program, business owners would have to change a number of things in their facilities, including updating air filters, spacing tables 10 feet apart, taking temperatures of visitors and employees and recording contact information for patrons who visited their establishments. They also needed to form a committee of business owners to help self-regulate within the county, and report to the CDPHE on any complaints or non-compliance issues with businesses.

The Five Star certification would allow Elbert County businesses that received the variance to operate at level orange on the dial, one step less restrictive than the red status that mandated restaurants provide only takeout and curbside service.

The county received approval for the certification program from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment on Dec. 30, and the stage was set for eight local restaurants to be open for business Dec. 31, after putting in hours of work and spending money to meet the criteria put forth by the CDPHE.

Then, that same day, Gov. Jared Polis announced that all counties in the red level would be summarily dialed back to level orange. The announcement came as a surprise to local officials, and was frustrating for Elbert County officials and business owners.

“Confusion is shared by many,” said Commissioner Richardson. “It is clear that CDPHE didn’t expect the governor to direct status changes not supported by the state’s published metrics.”

Polis’ declaration, according to Richardson, once again changed the rules mid-game.

“Under the Five Star program as published by CDPHE, businesses were to be able to operate one level down the dial, orange while in red, yellow while in orange, etc.,” said Richardson. CDPHE’s latest, and it has been evolving, is now that regardless of color designated, authority to operate one level down will not be given until we sustain seven days in the metrics of that associated with the level designated.”

If Elbert County once again reaches the red level, businesses with the Five Star certification will be able to continue to operate at the orange level.

Richardson posted a lengthy opinion on his Facebook page regarding the recent changes, and said the changes were based on “political science” rather than “scientific science.”

“The timing of the governor’s decision (and it’s clear it was a decision not sought by his own public health experts) coincided with the release of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis quarterly report,” wrote Richardson. “The new restrictions on those who have worked hard to jump through all the hoops placed before them just so they can operate businesses that have been proven safe throughout the pandemic is a slap in their face. As an individual commissioner, as a member of the county board of health, and in cooperation with other local government officials across the state, I will work to eliminate this restriction and continue to do all I can to get our businesses safely open.”

Commissioner Grant Thayer agreed that the constant changes are challenging, but said he feels the county is moving in the right direction as far as a decrease in COVID-19 numbers and measures taken by local officials and Elbert County residents.

“Our incidence rate, and our ability for small businesses to serve the community, are gravitating in a positive direction,” said Thayer. “Hospitalizations are well within anything that is considered acceptable.”

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