Chaffee County will request a variance from the state to help it gradually begin opening some businesses back up as COVID-19 cases have began to stabilize in the county.
In a virtual meeting on Friday (May 8) Chaffee County’s commissioners, public health director and COVID-19 incident commander Andrea Carlstrom and the public discussed the variance before the commissioners eventually approved it.
In addition to the commissioners, Carlstrom and Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center’s CEO Bob Morasko will also have to sign the request, and they have signaled they will.
“Hospital capacity is a huge component of the all the restrictions,” Carlstrom said. “We must ensure our health care (system) has the capacity to handle a surge of COVID-19.”
Commissioner Greg Felt also said he’d also seek signatures or letters of support from the three municipal mayors in the county, who he said have also signaled support, before submitting the request to the state.
Commissioner Keith Baker noted that the county would need to continue the same practices that got us in a position to be able to request a variance and continue following public health orders.
Allowing retail food establishments to partially open their seating areas is a big piece of the request.
“I’m confident the industry can rise to the occasion and find solutions for a gradual reopening,” Carlstrom said, noting that it already operates under a high level of scrutiny.
Under the requested variance and state guidelines, restaurants have to take extra precautions, like requiring all employees to cloth wear masks, requiring customers to wear masks until they reach their table, not allowing people to wait in the lobby and implementing a reservation system. Carlstrom also mentioned maximizing outdoor seating with proper distancing, limiting group parties to 10 people and encouraging take-out and curbside pickup.
Bars would remain closed under the request, Carlstrom said. Bars attached to restaurants would also remain closed unless they could maintain safe distancing.
Carlstrom also noted that requiring employees to masks, even those in the kitchen, is part of the state order.
‘If they want to reopen, they must ensure employee health and ensure employees are not spreading it to customers,” Carlstrom said.
Restaurant apacity would be assessed every two weeks. Commissioner Rusty Granzella asked if the capacity could be assessed weekly and Carlstrom said the two-week frame would follow the incubation period and allow them to assess how the actions have impacted health.
The county is also considering allowing hotels and motels to reopen at a limited capacity. The state has them listed as critical businesses and it was the county who decided to close them previously. “We’re looking at systematic ways to slowly open hotels and motels,” Carlstrom said.
The commissioners, however, decided not to add short-term rentals, like houses, to the request even though two owners in the meeting said they pose fewer risks than hotels.
“It’s not that we don’t have full confidence they can provide safe lodging,” Carlstrom said. “Our grave concern is if we open too soon, the county is inundated with visitors and we don’t have the capacity to keep the community healthy.”
She said if the governor doesn’t lift restrictions on short-term rentals by June 1, they could request a variance then, but said, “At this time, we can’t handle another layer.”
Once submitted, the state can approve the variance, approve it with conditions or deny it, Felt said.