Open for business?

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Some Rio Blanco County businesses, including some restaurants, are opening with restrictions. Others are choosing to remain closed and continue to offer curbside services for the time being. Caitlin Walker | Herald Times

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County commissioners submitted a letter to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment on April 29 requesting a variance for the county in relation to COVID-19 related restrictions, citing low caseload and plans in place. The board received a response via email on May 8 approving most of the county’s requests.
In a work session Monday with the commissioners, Public Health Director Alice Harvey said the county’s variance request was approved except for the ability to reevaluate public events after June 1.

“It’s what we were expecting in terms of precautions,” Harvey said.
The county specified four specific functions in the variance request: planned public gatherings, restaurants, places of worship and gyms. Bars will remain closed and nursing homes are still not permitted visitors. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still not allowed, leaving the ability to plan ahead for summer events still in the air.
Harvey said restaurants can open for dine-in but added, “many of our restaurants don’t want to reopen for dine-in this week.”
Restaurants can reopen at 30% capacity with modifications for employee and customer screening, wearing of face masks by employees and customers (until seated), reservations to avoid having people waiting in close proximity. According to the document from the state, “As noted in your suppression plan, this approval is only for restaurants, bars are not authorized to open.”
For places of worship, reduced participation, symptom screening, encouraging use of face masks, and employee screening for symptoms are listed. Some churches are choosing to stick with virtual services for the safety of their parishoners.
Gyms may operate at 30%. The Rangely Rec Center is expected to reopen May 18. The Meeker Rec Center is closed for maintenance until May 25.
Salons and other personal services have also been allowed to reopen with contingencies.
Asked whether it would be better to just “open up everything and get rid of all the restrictions” until we have more cases in the county, Harvey said, “I don’t think that would be wise at this point. All the parameters are based on national best practice guidelines.”
County Attorney Todd Starr said he suspects the state orders will be extended past May 26 and asked how the county could “get out in front of that rather than being reactive to the governor.”
“Our role is to continue to keep an eye on the community and make recommendations for the safest way to proceed. We’re not speaking on behalf of the state. I don’t want the science to get mixed up with the politics here,” Harvey said, adding that public health is relying on information from a variety of sources, not just the state, to make recommendations for safety’s sake.
Individual businesses subject to state licensing should receive guidelines from the state Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA) with specifics for each industry in reopening.