Englewood businesses can begin applying for looser COVID-19 restrictions after Arapahoe County got state approval to participate in the Five-Star Recovery Program, officials said Dec. 30. The …
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Englewood businesses can begin applying for looser COVID-19 restrictions after Arapahoe County got state approval to participate in the Five-Star Recovery Program, officials said Dec. 30.
The Five-Star program allows qualifying businesses to operate under restrictions one level less restrictive than the county's current status on the state's COVID-19 dial. Just hours after Arapahoe County received approval, Gov. Jared Polis announced he would ask the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to roll back counties at level red — which allows no indoor dining — to level orange, which would allow indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Though county officials initially hoped the rollback meant that qualifying businesses could begin operate at level yellow, allowing restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, a county must first meet all the metrics of level orange, which those in the metro area have not. The counties’ 14-day incidence rates need to move from red to orange first.
If the CDPHE allows that change to level orange, Five-Star certified businesses would then be able to open under even less restrictive level yellow conditions, which would allow restaurants to operate at 50% of indoor seating capacity, and would loosen restrictions on gyms and indoor venues.
To qualify for the Five-Star program, businesses must submit a plan to the county detailing how they will comply with a list of criteria, including keeping tables 10 feet apart, enforcing mask use and using high-quality air filtration. Plans must then be verified by city inspectors.
Enforcement will be handled on a complaint basis, and will fall to Tri-County Health Department inspectors. Though the county initially requested a three-strikes policy before businesses see their Five-Star status revoked, the final plan by CDPHE allows only two verified complaints before a business loses certification.
Englewood officials anticipate strong demand for the program, said Darren Hollingsworth, the city's economic development manager.
“We're not sure exactly how many businesses are eligible, but it could be in the hundreds,” Hollingsworth said. “Luckily many of them have already been adhering to protocols close to the ones in the program. We're excited about this. The county has done an excellent job putting this together for us.”
Obtaining Five-Star certification could be a big help, said Aaron Hatle, co-owner of the Whiskey Biscuit restaurant on Broadway.
“We've been hit pretty hard,” he said. “We had just gotten past our third anniversary when the shutdowns hit in spring. For a restaurant, the third year is often the one where you actually start getting to keep some of the money you make.”
Sales are down 60% this year, Hatle said, and outdoor tents and fire pits only go so far in the winter.
“The city has been great helping with grants, but really we just need sales to pick up,” he said. “Some of the Five-Star restrictions are going to be difficult to meet, like the 10 feet between tables, but when push comes to shove we need to do what we can to keep our doors open and our staff employed.”
For other restaurants, the certification may not be worth the trouble.
“The restrictions would probably be too hard for us to maintain,” said Paul Losier, the manager of the Full House Bar & Grill on Broadway. “You really think I could get bar patrons to sit still and keep their masks on when they walk around?”
Losier said the Full House's plan is to ride things out with patio dining until restrictions loosen up further.
“We've missed out on all the holidays this year, and those are our big nights,” he said. “We're just trying to hold on until things get better. We'll get there, I'm sure.”
Some restaurants are making do with takeout.
At Frank the Pizza King, the early days of the pandemic actually weren't so bad, said manager Matt Krascek.
“It was great — people were going crazy with takeout and delivery,” he said. “It's slowed down a lot lately. We're getting by.”
Five-Star certification, however, would allow perhaps only one or two tables in the restaurant's small dining room.
“Not to mention the expense of a new filtration system,” Krascek said. “No, we'll just hold out for the vaccine to roll out. Hopefully before long we'll be opened up again like normal. We want to see our regulars. We miss everyone.”
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