GOLDEN, Colo. — Jefferson County Commissioners met in emergency session Wednesday to apply for a 5 Star certified business variance to help restaurants struggling during the pandemic.
The county remains at Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial, meaning there is a severe risk.
For restaurants, that means no indoor dining. Groups that are part of the same household can sit out on the patio.
Rick Egloff, the longtime owner of Tuscany Tavern in Evergreen, said it's an insult to think restaurants can make a go of it with just patio business in the middle of winter.
"Code Red is a non-starter. It's a loser for the restaurant business," Egloff said.
Egloff said his community room, normally packed with people attending Christmas parties, sits empty. So does his main dining room, with its colorful mural of the Italian countryside.
"When you've been here 20 years and you walk in and you're the only one here, how do you put that into words?" Engloff said.
Egloff said many restaurant owners try very hard to be the "heart and soul" of their communities and to take care of people socially, financially and in other ways.
He said non-profits use restaurants to raise funds, and that friends and families gather to socialize.
He said not being labeled essential is a "slap in the face."
"Let us become essential again," Engloff said. "That's all we're asking."
Restaurant owners like Egloff have been burning the ears of Jefferson County Commissioners.
"Many of them have said to me, 'we're not sure we can keep our doors open,'" District 3 Commissioner Leslie Dahlkemper said.
During their meeting Wednesday, commissioners applied for a 5 Star COVID restrictions variance that, if approved, would allow businesses to resume serving indoors.
Dahlkemper said the emphasis will be on restaurants without a drive-through option.
"It's the local indoor restaurants that are struggling," Dahlkemper said.
"This program will allow them to stay open, if we're approved, to operate at 25% capacity, or no more than 50 individuals, inside their restaurants," Dahlkemper said.
The program encourages businesses to implement COVID-19 safety measures beyond what is already required and thus accelerate their increased capacity. If the program is successful and COVID case numbers continue to decline, more business sectors will be eligible.
"I think the only thing they're asking us to do differently is to create a 10-foot separation between customers and tables," Egloff said. "Other than that, we've got the sanitizers. We've got the tracing. We've got the personal devices to tell us if we have fevers or not."
The big questions are how soon might Jeffco's 5 Star request be approved and how soon might restaurants with approved plans resume serving indoors?
"I wish I knew. I hope it's tonight. I hope it's next week. I certainly hope it doesn't go past the first of January," Egloff said.
The Tuscany Tavern owner said he just wants restaurants to be essential again.
Commissioners in Arapahoe and Elbert counties have also applied for 5 Star variances.
Variances have already been granted in Douglas, Summit, Larimer and Broomfield counties.
Several restaurants that had individual plans pre-approved are serving indoors once again.