Garfield County to pursue 5-Star certification for looser COVID restrictions

County’s rolling case total, incidence rate improved over the holiday stretch

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

A restaurant patron takes a to-go order from Grind in downtown Glenwood.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Garfield County will formally seek permission from state public health officials to adopt a 5-Star business variance program, encouraged by a two-week decline in the county’s coronavirus case numbers and other disease risk measures.

County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved the variance request to be sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The application also has the support of Glenwood Springs and Rifle, and each of the smaller towns in the county, said Joshua Williams, environmental health manager for the county.

Williams has been meeting over the past month with local chamber and municipal officials and several Glenwood business representatives to put the application together.

The effort has expanded to include support from Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Rifle, with a verbal nod of support from Parachute, Williams advised county commissioners Monday.

Effective Monday, at the direction of Gov. Jared Polis late last week, restaurants and other businesses in Garfield and counties across the state were allowed to move from red level restrictions to the less-strict orange level.

That meant restaurants could resume indoor dining at 25% capacity, though some in Garfield County continue to operate at 50% on separate guidance from the county commissioners.

“Garfield County has had 14 days of declining incidence (of new COVID-19 cases) from Dec. 17 to Dec. 30,” the county’s letter addressed to CDPHE Chief of Staff Mara Brosy-Wiwchar states.

As of the 4:30 p.m. Monday update from Garfield County Public Health, the county had continued to see a decline in the daily total of new cases, from a high of 64 on Dec. 17 to 36.

The county’s two-week incidence rate has also dropped from more than 1,000 per 100,000 people to 798, and its test positivity rate has gone from more than 13% to 9.4%.

“Meanwhile, (under the tighter restrictions) businesses in Garfield County are struggling to survive, and local workers have lost their sources of income,” the county’s letter to CDPHE states.

If approved, individual businesses could apply to operate a level up from where the county is on the state’s COVID-19 dial. To do so, they would have to show they meet a higher public health standard set by the state.

Among the provisions to meet the 5-Star standard are:

• Requiring masks and 6-foot distancing

• For restaurants, ensuring that tables are at least 10 feet apart while at level red

• Regularly sanitizing and cleaning high-touch surfaces

• Recording customer names and contact information for tracing, if necessary

• Checking employee symptoms and tracking exposures

Under the program, if the county’s COVID metrics remain at the orange level, 5-Star certified businesses can operate under the looser yellow-level restrictions. A move to yellow on the dial would mean a business can operate at the blue level and so on.

A local administrative committee made up of chamber and city officials and some business representatives would oversee the program. Williams said that’s important, so as to take the load off of the Garfield County Public Health Department to handle the necessary inspections, audits and paperwork that is required.

“I see this as a way, if something goes crazy again and (the state) shuts down restaurants, to give us a safety net for Glenwood Springs, and the entire county,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

In a separate letter of support for the 5-Star certification, Glenwood Springs City Council wrote, “We wholeheartedly support this effort and will assist in the program’s oversight and implementation.

“The city is committed to using the city’s resources and staffing to encourage and enforce compliance for businesses and has emphasized that businesses within our borders must comply with state public health orders in advance of this application.”

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