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COVID In Colorado: Restaurant Workers Protest In Summit County, Demand Fairness

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (CBS4) - Restaurants in Summit County officially closed indoor dining Sunday night. On Monday afternoon, industry workers took to the street to protest.

"I hope that when they see all of the faces that they're putting out of work or giving limited work to, they might have a second thought on getting provisions together quicker," said protest organizer, Savannah Wahaus.

(credit: CBS)

Wahaus lost two jobs during the beginning of the pandemic. While she didn't get laid off this round, many of her co-workers did.

"They don't know how they're going to pay their rent the following month, if they don't get unemployment, if they get enough unemployment… that's not enough," Wahaus said. "I've had people voice to me they're worried how they're going to feed their kids. It's serious you know? And it makes me really emotional, so that's why I feel so strongly about this."

For Wahaus, serving to-go food isn't a sustainable option.

"I had my first to-go shift last night, and I made a fraction of what I would usually make and no one wanted to sit outside. It's cold, it's winter."

Last week Wahaus floated the idea of a protest on a Facebook group, and it took off. She spent the weekend handing out flyers to every restaurant in Summit County she could.

(credit: CBS)

"It felt great to know there was so much support backing me," she said. "Most business owners and employees have the same feeling I do about just kind of being lost in all of this about what they're gonna do moving forward."

The support was clear. On Monday, protesters met at Yo Mamma's Tacos which handed out $2 tacos while the Poor House served up free burgers. Around 4 p.m., with help from the Breckenridge Police Department, the crowd marched the length of Main Street chanting, "We want to work!"

"I think there's some favoritism, completely, with hotels still running at 100% in Summit County and retail stores at 50%, and we're just expected to shutdown when all we've done all summer long is comply with every single rule that the county and the state has given us, and we are still being shut down," she said.

The county was able to secure funding in the spring for COVID-19 relief and says there is more on the horizon. It was recently awarded $500,000 through the federal CARES Act.

"That is meant to go toward business and employee and nonprofit support within the community. We are pulling together a group that would include the towns, ourselves, and some other local business leaders to try to best understand where the need is most desperate, most dire, to try to come up with what's the best way to distribute those funds as well as understand what other funds might be available from the towns, so to pool our resources," said Scott Vargo, Summit County Manager.

Vargo said as the state's special session begins to ramp up, the county will make its case for even more relief.

"We've got some meetings just to get a better understanding of what's intended by that session, what type of relief might come to local governments to distribute to individuals directly, so we don't have a lot of detail on that quite yet," Vargo said. "We do know that they're trying to focus on small businesses, restaurants, the employees that are affected by those things, rental assistance... so we're hoping that there's some opportunity for us to either help to advocate for our community or be able to distribute funds if it's pushed down through counties and municipalities."

(credit: CBS)

The shutdown is expected to last for a month. It's not what restaurants face last time, but still difficult for restaurant workers in Summit County as the ski season is starting to ramp up.

"We know how painful this is for that community. We've got a high percentage of our population that are in the hospitality and the service industries so as these changes are made, it's unfortunately impactful on a lot of those folks and a lot of those folks are in a position where they simply really struggle to take any kind of additional hit. So, we recognize that, that's part of again, the idea behind trying to find some way to provide some relief funding for them," said Vargo.

He emphasized the order came from the state and said the county isn't in a position to say, 'we're not going to follow those.' Vargo also pointed out that anywhere people spend time indoors without a mask, presents a greater risk of transmission.

"The fact is that unfortunately some of those activities are simply the more risky activities as it relates to the transmission of COVID and the level of COVID activity within our community is at an all time high. We aren't dealing with the situation that we were dealing with in the summertime where there were more outdoor dining opportunities, and we have to do what we can to try to slow the spread of the virus and indoor activities, and indoor activities where you're not going to be wearing a mask and where you're going to be interacting with other people, is a high risk activity," said Vargo.

Wahaus says she knows COVID-19 is serious, and she's not disputing that, but says most restaurants have been operating successfully under previous restrictions and believes that can continue without risking transmission.

"By shutting the restaurants, as much as you want to believe people are gonna go to house parties and stuff, that's not going to be the case. I'm sorry it's just not going to be," she said.

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