May 14, 2020 – El Paso County Public Health presented a variance request for restaurants to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners today. Commissioners voted to approve the request, which proposes reopening restaurants in El Paso County with common sense safety precautions for patrons, staff, and business owners. Upon final approval by hospitals, the carefully thought out plan will be sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for further review and approval.
Public Health collaborated with hospitals and medical experts to create a plan that would allow restaurants to offer in-person dining services, while putting in place processes that will limit the potential for COVID-19 to spread.
“We recognize that economic health is a vital part of any community, and we know that local restaurants play a critical role in that,” said Susan Wheelan, director of El Paso County Public Health. “We thank our residents for their patience while Public Health worked with closely with hospitals, community leaders, the business partners and other experts to create a detailed and medically sound plan that aims to help reopen our local restaurants.”
“I am excited to support this resolution and get people back to work,” said Board Chair Mark Waller. “Each day that goes by without a variance is another day that many small business owners and their employees step closer to financial disaster.”
Commissioners heard from several other experts at this morning’s meeting. “This is going to be a step for us to start figuring out how we’re going to operate our restaurants, and moving forward in a healthy fashion” said Greg Howard, president of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “Most counties don’t have the strong relationships with health departments that our local chapter does. We are grateful for the relationship with El Paso County Public Health.”
Key takeaways from the variance request include:
- All seating shall be structured so as to ensure a minimum of six feet between occupied seats at different tables.
- Groups seated together shall be limited to 10 people and must be from the same household or consistent social group.
- Facilities are required to take reservations. Walk-in reservations are also accepted.
- Restaurants are encouraged to record and maintain the following information for each table seated for twenty-one (21) days:
- Name and phone number of one adult in the party
- Table assignment
- Seating and departure times
- If maintained, such information shall be provided to Public Health only upon request if Public Health needs to notify others of a new COVID-19 outbreak.
- Seating at bar areas is not permitted unless a minimum of six-foot distancing between staff and customers can be maintained.
Common-use items and areas
- Multiple-use condiment containers are prohibited. Only single-use items may be provided.
- Buffets may not be self-serve by customers; only plated or carry-out delivery meals provided to customers by staff are allowed. Buffets must be at least six feet from any dining tables.
- Doorknobs, counter tops, bathrooms, handles, railings, and other high-touch areas shall be cleaned and disinfected every 2 hours.
- Employees who routinely or consistently come within six feet of other employees or customers must wear a cloth face covering over their noses and mouths, unless doing so would inhibit the employee’s health.
- Facilities must make every effort to provide employees with cloth face coverings.
“I would echo the words of Mr. Howard about the constructive relationship with Public Health,” added Dirk Draper, CEO of the Chamber & EDC. “We have been meeting for last three weeks with Public Health, and fostering a collaborative cross-industry effort where we’ve gotten to share perspectives from business organizations and industries. We appreciate the open lines of communication with Public Health.”
Public Health will continue to assess the local environment and the data and make changes as needed. With this in mind, the requirements set forth above may require revision as Public Health learns more from ongoing COVID-19 data produced by changes in restrictions. Allowing people to gather in a closed space over time carries inherent risk that must be acknowledged by those choosing to participate, despite the protection inferred from the preventive measures above.
“This is a perfect example of our community coming together and finding a compromise that moves the ball forward for our citizens and our businesses,” Commissioner Cami Bremer stated. “I believe this is where the community wants us to be: working together to get our economy and our way of life back on track.”
Public Health remains dedicated to exploring innovative yet safe ways to gradually ease restrictions and help our community continue to thrive.