DENVER — After a year of mask-wearing, Denver's restaurant workers are getting a bit of reprieve -- but there's a catch.
"If 85% of employees in a restaurant setting can demonstrate that they've been vaccinated, then those face coverings can come off," Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment, said Thursday.
The staff at Fox Run Cafe on East Colfax Avenue in Denver's Congress Park neighborhood qualifies for this big change.
"All but one. So we have, what, seven, eight employees and one employee is not vaccinated," owner Lucien Reichert said.
He learned of this change to the city and county's public health order Friday morning. The order now better aligns with the state's.
And like so many local business owners, he's open to removing masks altogether.
"I would love to get rid of them just based on me and how how we operate this kitchen, which is a very small staff," Reichert said.
But he's not sure if his customers are ready to see him and his staff without masks. He wants more time.
"I think the worst thing would just be to upset a customer that sees you back there, not having a mask on," Reichert said. "I think it would make [the customers] more comfortable to get a little bit further along in the vaccination program before we take our masks off."
Customers like Veronica Hudson are understanding as restaurant staff navigate constantly-changing orders.
"I just want to respect whatever the employees’ wishes are, so if they're comfortable not wearing masks as they're vaccinated, that's fine with me. I'm vaccinated as well," she said. "At some point, we're going to get closer to maybe not back to normal, but more of what we're used to."
Sonia Riggs, the president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, expects some restaurants will take their time removing the masks. But she worries how customers will react.
"Are people going to go in that restaurant and say, 'Well, these people clearly haven't been vaccinated, so I'm going to walk back out,'" Riggs said.
She's asking people for patience as restaurants figure it all out.
"I will say that people, especially folks in this industry, are particularly sensitive, trying to make sure that they're keeping themselves, their fellow staff members and their guests safe," she said.
Reichert is trying to stay positive as he decides how to proceed forward.
"I'd rather err on the side of caution with everybody coming in here than just get excited and take them off," he said. "Hopefully in a year from now, COVID is just a memory for everybody.