DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – Restaurants, houses of worship, gyms and the Park Meadows Mall will be allowed to reopen in limited capacities starting Saturday in Douglas County after the Colorado Department of Health and Environment approved variance requests on Friday.
The variances will allow most of those types of businesses to reopen at up to 50% of their posted capacity as long as they can ensure at least 28 square feet of space per person.
More than 175 people will not be allowed into the same building at the same time, according to the variance.
But at gyms and exercise studios, according to the request, the occupancy would be limited to 1 person per 120 square feet and limited to groups of up to 10 or 50% occupancy, whichever is less.
Signs will be required at the entrances of businesses telling people not to enter if they are sick, staff will be required to wear face coverings and customers are encouraged to wear them as well.
The Board of Douglas County Commissioners finalized its variance request on May 15, writing that the county “is in a unique position in comparison with other metro counties due to our lower disease rate parameters and proactive development of actionable measures.”
The variance, granted by CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, says that the Tri-County Health Department, which covers public health operations for Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties, has a strong public health surveillance system, enough hospital capacity and thresholds for rolling back the variance “if conditions worsen.”
The thresholds agreed to by the county and the CDPHE for rolling back the variance will be as such: If there is a 20% increase in positive cases in the county on a three-day rolling average over a 14-day period; if there is a substantial increase in hospitalizations over a two-week period; if the county health department cannot contact trace new cases within 24 hours; or if there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks.
If any of those conditions are met, the variance would be automatically rescinded, according to Ryan’s letter to commissioners.
Additionally, the letter states that the variance is in effect until the final expiration of the safer-at-home public health order, which Ryan wrote “will be extended in some capacity beyond the current expiration date this week.”
“On behalf of our Board I wish to express our thanks to all involved in the preparation and review of these documents including our business community, Tri-County Health Department, our hospitals and the CDPHE. We are especially grateful to the citizens of Douglas County for adhering to the behaviors that led to the favorable public health data that supported this outcome,” said Douglas County Commission Board Chair Roger Partridge.
According to the state, there have been 21 counties that have had variances approved as of Saturday morning.
The safer-at-home phase in Colorado was focused on Douglas County early on when a café in Castle Rock bucked public health orders to open to in-person dining and large crowds on Mother’s Day. It was shut down by Tri-County Health and had its license pulled by the state the next day.
County commissioners and lawmakers from the county have also been among the most vocal in pushing back against the state’s public health orders during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"This is a big step to getting life back to a sense of normalcy, but we have to remember that they will be operating under new rules and procedures," the Douglas County Sheriff's Office tweeted Saturday morning.
The balance will be put to the test on Memorial Day Weekend as many shoppers, corralled by coronavirus restrictions, head to shopping centers for the first time this spring.
The Park Meadows Mall on Saturday was still quiet as many stores did not have enough time to react to the late-night variance approval on Friday. However, larger crowds are expected as the holiday weekend continues. As the numbers increase, so will the pressure on crowd control.
"Tons of signage, stickers on the floor to indicate six feet," explained Tri-County Health Deputy Director Jennifer Ludwig.. "Tables have to be six feet apart. Only so many people can be at a table at a time. Restaurants will need to get creative with the menu so that it is touchless menu."
“We are beyond excited to be given the opportunity to re-open our businesses ahead of the State’s schedule,” said Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet. “This is an opportunity to be leaders and demonstrate our ability to successfully reopen our economy while maintaining everyone’s health and safety at the forefront.”
"It is really about balancing the public health protection measures that we have in place to continue to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but also understanding the need to get our businesses open," Ludwig said.