Jefferson County is awaiting word from the state about whether it will allow the county to offer a program that would pave the way for restaurants to reopen their dining rooms even as the county remains in Level Red on the state COVID-19 dial.
The county announced on Dec. 23 that it had submitted the required application and letters of support necessary to request that the state allow it to implement the state’s 5 Star Certified Business Variance in Jeffco.
Under that program, restaurants, gyms and other businesses can operate under less restrictive capacity caps than their county’s level on the state COVID-19 dial would indicate if they implement enhanced COVID-19 health and safety measures.
Approved businesses would be able to operate under Level Orange restrictions, which allow restaurant dining rooms to operate at 25% capacity up to a maximum of 50 people, even while Jeffco remains in Level Red, which closes restaurant dining rooms.
According to the application submitted to the state, Jeffco’s implementation of the program would initially be restricted to restaurants without drive through capability.
“We would plan to roll this program out to other categories of businesses if our COVID-19 milestone metrics remain stable or continue to show declines” reads a letter in the application signed by the three county commissioners.
To apply for a 5 Star variance, businesses will be required to implement several COVID-19 strategies listed on the CDPHE website.
For example, restaurants are required to improve their ventilation by either making improvements to their HVAC system or opening windows and doors during business hours to maximize airflow.
They are also required to make extra efforts to make special accommodations for at-risk populations and file plans with the county for outbreak detection, reporting and response. Businesses seeking certification may not have any prior citations of noncompliance with prior public health orders.
In its application, Jeffco proposes that its program be overseen by a committee consisting of representatives from the county manager’s office, Jeffco Public Health, six Jeffco city governments and seven county chambers of commerce and economic organizations.
The county will then contract with an unnamed third-party vendor that will process applications and conduct live inspections of all applicant businesses prior to granting them a 5 Star waiver.
The application states that the county has dedicated $250,000 to support the program and will assess its ability to provide more funding if and when it is needed.
The third-party vendor will be responsible for enforcement inspections. If violations are found during an inspection, the county manager will issue a written warning. If a second violation is identified within 90 days, the county will revoke the variance
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, counties in Level Red are eligible to implement a 5-star variance program only if a county has had a sustained two-week decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as well as a test positivity rate that is either under 10% or improving over two weeks.
However, the program may be suspended if a county sees significant rises in any of those metrics. Suspension is automatic if the county’s hospitals exceed 90% of their ICU capacity.
The county application states that county COVID-19 cases declined 42.5% between Nov. 25 and Dec. 22.
CDPHE rules require that any launch of a 5-star variance program within a county not detract from core public health functions. Jefferson County attempted to address that requirement with the following statement within its application:
“Continuity of on-going public health functions will not be compromised. Contact tracing,vaccine distribution, public information, surveillance, and other core functions will continue to be monitored and supported by the local Public Health Director and existing staff. Staff from ourcontact tracing and vaccine distribution teams will not be tasked with supporting the 5 Star program, as Jefferson County is hiring a third-party vendor to implement the 5 Star program with oversight from the Administrative Committee.”
The county is asking all businesses interested in securing a 5-star variance (not just restaurants without drive-thrus eligible for the first phase) to submit a business interest form indicating that they are willing and able to meet all criteria for a 5-star variance. Businesses can find and submit the form at www.jeffco.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1460.
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