County gets variance to open some business ahead of Colorado

CBMR hopes to have lifts turning by July

By Katherine Nettles and Mark Reaman

The state responded to Gunnison County’s second variance request on public health orders late last week, approving requests with extra guidance for restaurants, campgrounds, group gatherings and places of worship, but not approving the indoor variance request for bars.

Gatherings in the county can expand to 25 people, and restaurants can open to a 50 percent capacity—25 percent was granted in the variance, but then state executive orders announced 50 percent a few days later—ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person and not exceeding 175 people at any given time.

However, “Bars are not authorized at this time,” states the Department of Public Health and Environment in the document. Gunnison County has since received more information about the distinction of a bar versus restaurant, and clarified that bars can operate if they have a full food license, but not if they operate without one. The thought is to keep tables turning over and discourage patrons from staying for hours at a time, explained county manager Matthew Birnie.

Campgrounds can open if campground operators ensure regular and thorough disinfection of any shared service such as restrooms or showers.

Places of worship have several additional requirements, such as providing at least six feet of distance between individuals or between groups of a single household; implementing one-way entry and exit walkways where possible; and avoiding self-serve refreshments or communal offerings.

“Gunnison County has a positivity rate consistently below 5 percent, with four cases in the last two weeks, which corresponds to a two-week incidence of 23 per 100,000. Per the application, Gunnison County Public Health has a robust public health system, including disease investigation and surveillance capabilities, testing availability, and sufficient hospital capacity to take care of COVID-19 cases,” as stated in the response letter.

Commissioner John Messner said an industry group of restaurants and retailers are concerned that even though they are taking all the protocols and their employees are wearing masks, they were seeing people over the weekend come in without them and worry that they will be shut down again if COVID-19 cases increase. Birnie confirmed the industry is seeing mixed voluntary compliance on masks.

“I think people are confused, that it’s not about violating their civil liberties—it’s about their responsibility to not give a fatal disease to others,” Birnie said.

Messner described a marketing campaign to keep encouraging people to wear their masks, but he was not sure if a county-based public health order to mandate masks is what business owners want. Messner made it clear there were no plans from the county to mandate masks, and the focus is on voluntary mask culture.

Birnie said when the county offices open back up to the public, he plans to require masks of everyone who enters the offices.

“We just cannot put our employees at that kind of risk,” he said.

County warns of getting too


Meanwhile, Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom said the incident command team is concerned about the community becoming too lax. “As a community, we must not become complacent with things like hygiene, masks, and social distancing,” he said. “This will be what keeps us where we are and not into another growth phase of the disease. We do expect that as more opens up and less social distancing is happening, we will see more positive COVID cases. We just have to balance that with not overwhelming EMS and the hospital.”

Lift spinning ahead

And CBMR, along with the rest of the Vail Resort ski resorts, plans to open its lift service this summer. In a letter to employees last week, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said lifts should start turning by late June or early July. No specific dates have been set for Crested Butte and year-round staff will continue to work from home.

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