Glenwood council cautions against county guidance on COVID rules
‘5-Star’ program hinges on reducing case rate, state health official says
Glenwood Springs businesses operating under Garfield County’s modified COVID-19 restriction — rather than the state’s level red rules — will not be eligible for forthcoming city assistance grants.
City Council Thursday night also issued a strong word of caution about following the county commissioners’ guidance — in the form of a Wednesday resolution — that only orange-level restrictions, and certain yellow-level variances, would be enforced.
“We have restaurants open (to indoor dining, in violation of the level red), and a lot of them just don’t know what the rules are because they aren’t getting a clear message,” Councilor Charlie Willman said.
“All of them are being affected” by those making the individual decision to follow the county, he said.
“They need to be aware that this is a problem, this is the rule of the state, and the state has authority over the county in this,” he said.
Councilor Ingrid Wussow agreed with the majority of council members who said businesses not in compliance with the state public health orders should not be eligible for city assistance grants.
“I want all the businesses to succeed and stay profitable, but we can’t do (grants) if they are not in compliance with the state,” Wussow said.
Of particular concern for the city is that the current trend of COVID-19 spread in the community does not qualify Glenwood Springs, or the county as a whole, for the new “5-Star” program outlined by the state this week.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Chief of Staff Mara Brosy-Wiwchar addressed City County Thursday about that and other COVID questions.
The CDPHE this week released its framework for counties or cities to apply to allow businesses to operate one level up from what the state dial would otherwise allow, if they can meet a higher public health standard.
However, until the county — or the city on its own if that data can be broken down — shows a two-week trend of declining case counts and incidence rate, and a lower test positivity rate, the “5-Star” program could not be implemented, Brosy-Wiwchar said.
To get there, a city or county applying for the designation would need to be in compliance with state public health orders — in this case, the level red restrictions.
She reiterated that counties may be more strict than the state in its COVID restrictions, but not less restrictive, and that the state could take enforcement action to suspend business and liquor licenses in the case of violations.
Level red means restaurants are limited to takeout, delivery or open-air dining areas, and cannot have indoor dining. Last call for alcohol sales is also 8 p.m. under the level-red rules.
Gyms and fitness centers, as well as offices, must also operate at 10% capacity, and “indoor events,” such as movie and stage theaters, are to be closed.
The county commissioners, in their resolution Wednesday, said the county will allow restaurants to operate at 50% indoor capacity, with a 10 p.m. last call. Gyms, fitness centers, offices and theaters can operate at 25% capacity, per the county resolution.
Businesses choosing to follow the county’s guidance, however, must post signs near the entrance saying they are operating with the county’s blessing, and not at the state’s level red.
Regardless, that’s a violation of state law, City Attorney Karl Hanlon advised councilors.
“Businesses operating under the county’s resolution “do so at their own risk,” Hanlon said. “There are no protections, no indemnity, whatsoever.
The “risk,” he said, is that the state could take action to suspend licenses, as has happened in Weld County, where county commissioners have also taken a stance against the state restrictions.
And, “the county wants you to post a sign on your door saying that you’re violating the law,” Hanlon said.
The situation has caused friction between Glenwood Springs businesses, especially restaurants, as far as which rules they choose to follow, Mayor Jonathan Godes said.
“This puts restaurants in our community in a very adversarial position toward each other,” he said.
Brosy-Wiwchar, in her comments to the Glenwood council, noted that the Front Range counties that moved to the level-red restrictions saw their COVID-19 trend turn around in a matter of weeks.
“Colorado really started to bend the curve when we shut down indoor dining (in the metro areas),” she said.
Two weeks ago, about one in 40 people in Colorado, statistically speaking, were infected with the virus. That number has since improved to one in 59, she said.
The number of new positive COVID-19 cases statewide has also decreased from 4,500 to 6,000 per day in November to about 2,000-3,000 per day currently.
“It is challenging under level red … not just for constituents, but it’s incredibly damaging to our businesses,” Brosy-Wiwchar said. But the move from level orange to level red in those counties where the trends were going up has made a difference in controlling disease spread.
As for how much disease spread can be attributed to restaurant dining, that’s hard to say, Brosy-Wiwchar said.
What the CDPHE does know through contact tracing is that about 60% of all COVID-19 cases are “unidentified” in terms of where a person contracted the virus.
“What we do know is when we close indoor dining, cases drastically go down,” she said. “Any time you are sitting in an enclosed room with other people, it lends itself to more rapid transmission of COVID.”
In other COVID-related responses on the part of City Council Thursday night, council agreed to sign onto a letter to Gov. Jared Polis this week from the Colorado Association of Ski Towns. The letter asks that resort-town restaurants be allowed to operate at 25% indoor dining capacity (same as level orange) through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The letter, on behalf of 40 member towns, counties and resort associations, reads in part, “Many of our resort communities are at or above 90% lodging occupancy for the holidays and it is hard to imagine how these people will get their meals without some in-person restaurant capacity … it translates to not being able to provide a basic, essential need to our visitors.”
City Council is also preparing a letter to be sent to the Garfield County commissioners requesting that the county encourage businesses to follow the level-red restrictions, and to make available some of the county’s reserve funds for business assistance.
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.