SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Some restaurants in Summit County are seating patrons indoors once again, following the state's approval of the 5 Star program. The program would allow increased capacity and indoor dining for restaurants that meet certain criteria.
"It's kind of crazy, because at 8 o'clock this morning we didn't know we were going to be able to open today," Cindy Spaulding told CBS4 Friday afternoon.
Spaulding, who owns The Uptown on Main in Frisco, has been preparing for this day since she closed indoor dining at her restaurant Nov. 22.
It was just last Thursday Spaulding applied for the 5 Star program, which allows restaurants to open indoor dining at 25% capacity if they meet state requirements.
Summit County has seen a steady decline in the number of positive COVID-19 cases since Dec. 3, so it expected the state to approve the variance for the program, and when that approval came sooner than expected, the county was ready.
"We knew that as soon as the state released what their 5 Star plans would be, that we wanted to have our Summit County 5 Star plan ready to go, and so we worked with our towns and our town management and talked about how we could best approach this in a collaborative manner," said Elisabeth Lawrence, Summit County Commissioner for District One.
Lawrence said staff from the towns of Blue River, Breckenridge, Dillion and Frisco were prepared to begin inspections the second the state gave approval.
"It's a lot of departments that work with permits already and are used to going in to inspect businesses and places, and so those employees went out, and started doing inspections," Lawrence said.
Spaulding was beyond grateful for the rapid response of the towns, and while the restrictions under the 5 Star program have a few caveats, she says it will help where to-go orders couldn't.
"Honestly, we were jumping up and down today when the first table came in so, it does feel good," said Spaulding.
In addition to 25% capacity restrictions, tables must now be 10 feet apart versus the usual 6 feet, and restaurants will have to collect patron contact information to help with contact tracing.
"So, we rearranged the dining room and the contact tracing, that's… we've never done that before," Spaulding continued, "It's not easy, you know, 10 feet apart really limits the spacing. I'm not even sure with the tables 10 feet apart we'll even make 25%, but you know, it's a start, right?"
While many restaurants were ready to open the same day they passed inspection, some of the new requirements under the 5 Star program will force others to invest.
"There's some requirements around ventilation and HVAC and HEPA air filters, so there's some new pieces to that that we know restaurants are going to have to purchase, and some capitol to get that going, versus other rest that already had that in place," said Lawrence.
Lawrence said she's hopeful most restaurants will be able to open in time for the busy winter season.
"We do have visitors coming to Summit County a large amount and we need capacity to be able to feed them. Our grocery stores cannot handle that alone and so that is one reason we were so motivated to get this 5 Star program in place," she said.
If the program is successful and COVID-19 case numbers continue to decline, the county said in a news release, more business sectors may be added, but emphasized that a spike in cases could reverse the course of action.
"We're telling everyone, that this 5 Star program it's not necessarily permanent, we have to keep up our end of the deal, which is keeping our case numbers low, the virus transmission low," said Lawrence.
Lawrence said qualified volunteers from each town will continue to do restaurant inspections through the weekend and next week to get as many open, as soon as possible.
"To actually have people sitting in here, it just feels really good," said Spaulding.
Restaurants that complete the application and certification process may open immediately.
The 5 Star program application is available for restaurants to apply on the Summit County website.
LINK: Colorado 5 Star Program
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