El Paso County commissioners approve variance requests for places of worship, zoo

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Posted at 8:57 AM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 10:07:24-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved two variance requests Thursday morning regarding places of worship and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The "El Paso County alternative reopening plan" for places of worship and the zoo were approved unanimously by commissioners. All variances approved locally still need to be approved by the state government.

“Spiritual and mental health is a critical factor to our region’s response, recovery, and resiliency to COVID-19,” said Mark Waller, chair of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. “Today’s vote demonstrates the role our churches play in the health and strength of our community. We will continue our work on variances to get our County open for worship, business, and recreation.”

The county is seeking to reopen these places with specific guidelines in place:

Places of worship

Churches in the state were one of the first buildings to close its doors in response to COVID-19 and health safety guidelines in place. El Paso County is proposing that churches can open with 25% of the fire occupancy load. Seating will also be structured in a way that keeps six feet of distance between individuals or groups. Groups will be limited to 10 people and must be from the same household or social group.

Face coverings are encouraged in the building when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained or when singing. Those attending church are also discouraged from handshakes, hugs, or other forms of physical contact.

They are encouraged to "obtain or confirm" contact information and, if possible, seating locations for those who attend and which service they attended. This information will be kept for a minimum of 21 days. In the variance, children's services, Bible studies or other "specialized groups" should not meet during worship services.

Vulnerable populations, such as those over 65 years old or who have underlying health issues, are encouraged to watch services online or "participate in a separate designated room, if available." The county stated it is encouraging places of worship to have certain rooms or areas for those who are vulnerable.

Staff will also be required to wear face coverings unless they are providing "a public ministry, such as songs or sermons, if also maintaining a 6-foot distance from others."

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The county is looking to reopen the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in three phases with June 1 as the opening date. This date may change depending on the "timeline for variance approval."

The first phase will be a 5-day period where the zoo is open to members only and timed tickets will be issued "with a limit of 300 per hour." Following this phase, there will be a 9-day period that the zoo is open to members and non-members with timed tickets issued with a limit of 300 per hour. In these two phases, the county proposes a safety officer will patrol the grounds and provide guidance or supplies to staff. Buildings will have 25% of its capacity occupied or up to 50 people.

The third phase will start on the 15th day after opening to the public. Tickets will not have time restrictions for both members and non-members. In this phase, the building capacity will be increased "so long as 6-foot distancing can be maintained and will be capped at 50." Off-site parking shuttles will not be available, keeping capacity between 4,000 to 4,500 people.

Guests will be highly encouraged to wear face coverings and to refer to an online map of the zoo, as well as purchasing tickets online. The Zoo may extend night time hours to accommodate more guests and distribute attendance. In an effort to control traffic flow in and out of buildings, doors will be one way, and other buildings will be closed.

All staff in contact with Zoo guests must maintain social distancing or be wearing a cloth face covering. Any volunteers that are not considered high-risk may return. Staff and volunteers health status will be checked daily. Any member with a temperature over 100 degrees, experiencing symptoms, or have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms will be required to stay home and self-isolate.

Restaurants and gift shops will be open to the public, following the El Paso County local public health order related to retail and restaurant requirements.

Group events more than ten people will still require social distancing, but weddings and other celebrations can still take place. These events must not include more than 50 people, and cloth face coverings must be worn. For updated information, go to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's website.

To read more about the variances, click here.
In the event that there are two or more possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases at the establishment in a 14-day period, the health department states they will request that the facility close long enough to work with the department on steps toward reopening.

The variance application will then be sent to the state health department for approval. News5 reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who said the variance approval process takes about a week. While variances are pending, counties must abide by the state's safer-at-home order.


How Colorado Department of Public Health reviews county variance requests