Pitkin County’s variance request to state touts outdoor spaces, common sense | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County’s variance request to state touts outdoor spaces, common sense

After skinning up Aspen Mountain, Sian Jones, left, Anne Goldberg, center, and Susan Saghatoleslami have a glass of champagne while abiding the social distancing requirements on Saturday, March 21, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The use of outdoor spaces and allowing common-sense social-distancing protocols are key components of Pitkin County’s request to the state to deviate from current and future public health orders, an official said Tuesday.

“It makes sense to align with the state public health order as much as possible,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told county commissioners Tuesday. “(But) we want some flexibility. We want to chart our own path.”

County staff submitted the request for a variance from the state public health order to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Monday, Peacock said. State officials have given no indication of a timeline for their decision, he said.

Pitkin County included its “Roadmap to Reopening” with the request, which sets out the community’s plan for loosening coronavirus-related restrictions. It includes data on a sustained decrease in local infections and hospital readiness, as well as a plan to be able to test for and trace every case of the virus.

A more or less flat infection rate in the county for at least the past month has set the stage for restaurants and lodging — Airbnb-style short-term lodging is excluded — to open on a limited basis May 27, when the state and local public health orders expire, local officials have said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has said he will provide information on the state’s next public health order by Memorial Day. Peacock said Tuesday that county public health officials are still waiting for state guidance on opening restaurants and lodging.

Many of Pitkin County’s requests of the state have to do with group size limitations and being able to set them within responsible social-distancing guidelines based on the particular space involved, Peacock said.

For example, group size now is capped at 10, though local officials anticipate increasing that to between 25 and 50 on May 27 as part of Phase 2 reopening, and possibly to 250 when the county decides to implement phase 3 restriction loosening, he said. In addition, local officials want to be able to tailor group sizes, especially in the case of lodging, to specific business spaces.

The county’s most significant request, however, involves “places of public accommodation” such as restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and performance theaters, Peacock said. The county is anticipating opening restaurants and bars for dine-in service May 27 with distancing and hygiene guidelines in place.

“Additionally, the county asks for variances to reopening places of worship, museums, gyms, movie and performance theaters, concert halls, or music venues under guidelines that limit gathering sizes, create strict physical distancing and cleaning requirements that all venues must meet,” according to the county’s variance request.

“However, limitations on gathering sizes will effectively keep many of these venues closed until phase 3 is reached.”

With indoor restaurant seating certain to be limited, probably to 50% seating capacity, the county asked the state to allow outdoor dining as much as possible within social-distancing requirements to allow restaurants more capacity “to survive this pandemic,” Peacock said.

The state is already talking about streamlining liquor license requests to allow outdoor drinking, he said.

“Outdoor venues will also be promoted as a less riskier environment than indoor venues,” according to the variance request.

In the case of retail stores, the county made a similar request to that of hotels, though it goes the other direction.

“In instances where the square footage of a retail business cannot accommodate the gathering size permitted while maintaining the minimum of 6 feet separation between employees and customers, a reduced number for entry will be set,” according to the variance request.

The county also asked to be able to utilize public transportation “for any permissible purpose” provided social distancing and hygiene guidelines are in place.

The Pitkin County Board of Health is scheduled to meet Thursday at 1:30 p.m., when the new phase 2 local public health order is likely to be discussed.

Any questions about current rules surrounding the local public health order, or any other business-related questions can be answered by sending an email to businessliaison@ pitkincounty.com.


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