After debating whether to break from the state’s official COVID-19 health order for Douglas County, commissioners decided to again ask permission from the state to reopen indoor dining in the …
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After debating whether to break from the state’s official COVID-19 health order for Douglas County, commissioners decided to again ask permission from the state to reopen indoor dining in the county in a letter sent to the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Commissioners also notified CDPHE Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan that they would begin putting a program in place to allow indoor dining, pending permission from the state.
“Thank you for taking a moment to review this notification of our development of the infrastructure for a Douglas County local certification program,” according to the letter, which was sent Dec. 4.
Commissioners are requesting that the state allow the county to use a “Variance Protection Program” similar to what is currently being utilized in Mesa County. The program allows businesses, including restaurants, to be open at a more lenient level based on the establishments’ commitment to measures that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Douglas County … has created the infrastructure to pre-certify eligible businesses who can be members of the local certification program,” according to the letter signed by the three commissioners.
CDPHE announced Nov. 27 it would accept feedback from the public on a possible program similar to Mesa County’s, for other parts of the state. In a framework released by the state, a possible timeline listed Dec. 18 as the day the state could allow other counties to begin implementation of the program.
In a series of recent meetings, Douglas County commissioners considered whether or not to follow through on an earlier letter they sent to Gov. Jared Polis stating they would continue with the variance program allowing indoor dining, even without explicit permission.
In that letter, sent Nov. 25, commissioners said if they did not hear back from the governor by Dec. 4, they would go ahead and move forward with a similar program. But after not hearing back, the commissioners decided not to go through with the plan.
“We tried to push his hand and he didn’t bite,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said.
In meetings last week, Commissioner Abe Laydon argued the state had given implicit permission by not responding to the commissioners' letter.
“We’re not fighting them, we’re just accepting their waiver,” he said. “‘You (the state) haven’t said anything so we’re taking that as you’re OK with us moving forward.”
The commissioners decided against that choice after considering the fact that the Tri-County Health Department likely wouldn’t support a plan that goes against the state health department. They also considered that the latest round of financial aid, approved by the state Legislature Dec. 2, requires that for businesses to get relief funds, their county must be in compliance with state health orders. There is an exception for restaurants inside — or one mile from — the city limits of a municipality that is in compliance.
“That puts us in an adversarial relationship with Tri-County,” Thomas said about moving forward without permission. “The other path is that we are working with Tri-County on this 5-Star (variance) pilot program… So that our businesses do not need to worry about getting their licenses taken away.”
Laydon agreed that he also didn’t want to put financial aid at risk but said he felt it was important for the county to be consistent with their earlier letter that said they would move forward.
Commissioner Roger Partridge added that the letter felt in line with their efforts “to keep the pressure on the state to get that program finalized sooner than later.” he said.
The county planned to continue meetings about the infrastructure of the plan the following week.
Tri-County has confirmed it is working with the county on a plan to prepare for this program so that when given permission by the state, Douglas County can move forward as quickly as possible.
“TCHD is actively engaged with Douglas County Government, municipalities and other key stakeholders to develop a plan,” said Jennifer Ludwig, Tri-County’s deputy director, through a spokesperson. “We are in the early stages of development and establishing roles, responsibilities and expectations for each entity involved.”
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