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Moving back on COVID-19 dial complicates 5 Star variance program

Restaurants in Pueblo can now admit 25% of their capacity for indoor dining
Posted at 7:26 PM, Jan 07, 2021

PUEBLO — Now that Pueblo is already operating in Level Orange on the COVID-19 dial, where does that leave the 5 Star program the county has been working to get approved?

For context, the 5 Star variance program was originally supposed to allow businesses that were certified the ability to operate in Level Orange, while Pueblo was still in Level Red.

Now, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses are back to allowing 25% capacity in their buildings.

“We’re happy that we’re open today... It’s a little bit infuriating kinda how it happened," said Heather Graham, Owner of Graham's Grill. Graham also serves on the board that has been spearheading the variance program. She says the way the restaurants were notified from Governor Polis' Facebook page was very last minute.

Most would assume that because businesses are now operating in Level Orange, those who take part in the variance program could simply move back to Level Yellow. However, it's not that simple. Because Pueblo's number of Coronavirus cases still reflect Level Red, the county is required to see a two-week downward trend of COVID-19 cases before the state will allow any business to operate in Level Yellow.

“Our metrics were not where they should have been in the dial to move us on the dial from Level Red to Level Orange," said County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz. "I believe the state made that decision due to a lot of input and pressure from counties across the state."

Businesses that intend on applying for the variance are required to submit a detailed prevention plan that lays out their steps to keeping customers same, causing more frustration for places like Graham's Grill that have already done their due diligence.

“That kinda sucks because it's like... everyone is trying so hard to get certified, so instead of 25% we can actually operate at 50%... and so that's kind of another reason why I feel like it kind of lost its luster," said Graham.

However, both Graham and Ortiz stressed that businesses should still apply for the program once it becomes available, in the event that Pueblo moves back into Level Red, or the two-week downturn prevails.

“Ya know it will really save businesses . If we ever get put back in the Red, you’ll still be able to operate at 10%”

Ortiz told News 5 that the 5 Star Variance program was sent to the state today and they expect approval to come swiftly. The county hopes to begin certifying businesses who qualify within the next week. More information documents regarding variance programs can be foundhere.