NewsCovering Colorado


'Christmas came early:' State approves several counties for 5 Star program, easing restrictions

Posted at 10:36 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 12:15:01-05

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) approved several counties for the 5 Star State Certification Program. The program eases restrictions allowing for indoor dining at restaurants and also increases capacity at gyms.

Customers eagerly waited for a table inside at the Great Divide Brewery and Roadhouse in Castle Rock Wednesday.

Inside, Kerrie Westensee cheerfully greeted her customers, saying “Thanks for coming in to see us at the Great Divide tonight.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Justin Adrian, the director of operations for Vibe Concepts, which runs the brewery, said he received a call from the health department giving them the green light to reopen indoor dining. The approval brought back more employees.

“They were thrilled. Some of them were crying,” Adrian said. “It’s a huge win for restaurants.”

“Christmas came early. I was so excited,” Westensee said.

Westensee has worked at the brewery since it opened six months ago. She estimates her income dropped 80% when they moved to outdoor dining.

“Business declined because people didn’t want to sit out there when it was 21 degrees and 18 degrees,” she said.

Westensee became the main breadwinner when her husband was furloughed. She said when she factored in her income drop, they had to reduce their grocery bill and cut back on their electric and car use.

CDPHE has approved Douglas, Summit, Larimer and Broomfield counties for the 5 Star program.

All four counties are currently in Level Red, but the program allows businesses in those counties to operate one level below, which drops them to Level Orange and eases restrictions. Under Level Orange restaurants can reopen indoor dining at a 25% capacity. Gyms can increase from 10% capacity to 25% capacity indoors.

Douglas County is calling their plan the COVID Best Practices Business Certification Program. Businesses must apply to take part, pass an inspection and follow a list of guidelines, which include: tables set 10 feet apart, mandatory masks, daily employee screenings and more.

So far, 18 restaurants, 14 gyms and fitness centers and an indoor venue have been approved to increase their capacity to 25%. More than 100 businesses are waiting to be certified.

A spokesperson for the Tri-County Health Department said the number of applications for the program will determine how well staffed they are to complete inspections and grant certifications.

“Our response time may be delayed if we get too many applications, but so far we’ve been able to get businesses certified in only a number of days,” the statement says.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said Tri-County Health will also enforce the guidelines.

“We don’t think implementing this program, or having to enforce the requirements, will detract from our public health responsibilities,” the Tri-County Health Department statement said.

“I think this is an opportunity for restaurants to show us what they’ve got and small businesses to say, look, we know this is serious, but we are going to do it right,” Laydon said. “We are going to keep people safe, but also going to keep our economy going.”

Westensee could already feel the change.

“Even at a 25% capacity, I think that will help a lot of us,” she said.

Larimer County inspected 40 businesses on Wednesday and granted an increased capacity to 35. The county is calling its plan, Level Up.

While many are excited about the eased restrictions, the Colorado Restaurant Association is raising red flags. They call the application process for counties to get approved by the state “cumbersome” and said it may be costly for “cash-strapped” businesses.

“Once implemented, restrictions on approved restaurants may be so burdensome that it won't serve the goal of expanding capacity. We would have liked for the Governor's office to work with us on the parameters of this program to make it a more realistic pathway to increased capacity for restaurants,” the Colorado Restaurant Association statement said.

Arapahoe County has applied for the 5 Star program and Jefferson County held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss their application for the program.