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.


(4) comments

Steve Eckert

There’s a lot of emotion, trauma and uncertainty for everyone in the moment. The “silver bullet” of a vaccine is many months away. How did those countries who have successfully dealt with covid19 get to where they are now? New Zealand, Taiwan? I believe they had wide spread testing, contact tracing softwear and timely reaction to the scientific data plus a population that adhered to practices that helped not spread the virus.

What have we experienced? You fill in the blank. Yes, those are much smaller populations and Taiwan had a pandemic plan in place, it’s a different situation. We can’t go back, but what can we do to keep people safe and still get back to an operating economy?

Kevin Marsilio

Our town needs to open up ,we need our restaurants, hotels and gyms to survive because if they don't the town will go down with it . I dont think it is being stupid .They are understanding the economic fall out if they dont do somthing .We need tourism to survive ,like it or not .Please support our community businesses before they can no longer support themselves.

Larry Jones


I appreciate your opinion, but I ask what do you suggest we do? Have you ever ran or owned a small business? Do you understand that financing, insurance, taxes, utilities and even licensing fees have not stopped in this situation? Do you understand if we don't start trying to slowly do something there will be unemployment at a rate greater than the Great Depression? Do you understand how many people will die or starve in that situation? I hope that you understand that eventually people will have to return to work. The government is not some magic fairy that can just make liabilities disappear. Furthermore, they owe debts to china, Japan and all over the world. If we have no commerce indefinitely, everything you understand to be yours will disappear. You savings worthless, your house worthless, there will be pain and suffering that unless you are over 85, you cant even begin to fathom. The government has already printed billions of new dollars to keep things afloat the last 70 days. The simply cant "make" more money. The county and cities are going to be in dire straits when we come out of this. They have huge hits on tax collection. That means no road repairs, cuts to health and human services the whole nine yards. Nobody wants deaths to be in vain or more people to get sick. Calling it "greed" for normal folk to not lose their homes, their business, everything is not greed. It is the reality of the situation. It is one thing to criticize the decision, but you offer no alternative. What would you do if you where in charge?

Beth G

What a stupid idea given that our county is not being responsible already with mask requirements in the currently opened retail establishments and have refused to test the workers who have been used as guinea pigs. The safety of residents should be the first priority instead of fudging numbers and allowing establishments to open without following guidelines like temperature readings and social distancing. This county has not followed any measures for our safety and have simply pretended. The certificate obtained by businesses from our health dept. to remain open is given without any inspections. Many of our businesses refuse to follow the guidelines or impose the rules on their customers. Opening indoor seating would be foolish and based on greed, not on the numbers. As long as we are not testing the poor workers who have sacrificed their lives for low wage jobs we should open nothing more. We need to really do this, not just manufacture the paperwork and call it good. We did not offer our deaths so others could profit.

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