ALAMOSA – In a joint virtual meeting Wednesday, Alamosa County officials brought members of the Alamosa City Council up to speed on the county’s “Safer at Home” variance application submitted to the state early last week.
As Colorado attempts to slowly reopen under Governor Jared Polis’ order based on the COVID-19 pandemic, counties are required to submit a variance to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) requesting more lenience which could allow more businesses to open. Council members asked Public Health Director Della Cox Vieira to explain the details of the variance which addresses the reopening of restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, places of worship and campgrounds in Alamosa County.
Each group of businesses are addressed slightly differently but all call for a spacing of 144 square feet per person, or approximately six feet of separation. A group from one household is considered one person. The variance also addresses places of worship and other gatherings of 10 or more people.
"Approval of the variance by the state is based on staying below a threshold of positive virus cases per people tested on a percentage basis," Vieira explained. Alamosa County included a 15% threshold in its variance, but noted that Rio Grande County was denied 15% and were given a threshold of 10%.
Councilwoman Liz Thomas Hensley asked what happens if the variance is granted and the threshold is exceeded. Viera said the county would probably have to return to state-ordered restrictions or submit a new variance. Governor Polis’ current “Safer at Home” order expires on Tuesday and no one could speculate what his next order might look like. Some predictions are that he may loosen the rules for restaurants.
Much discussion was held about current testing procedures for the virus with Mayor Ty Coleman speculating that if more tests could be completed and came back negative that it would be easier to keep below the threshold. Vieira explained that the county is still only testing symptomatic persons, those experiencing symptoms, and healthcare workers, so the likelihood of finding more negative cases is compromised.
She said the number of tests being conducted in the past few weeks has increased dramatically and is expected to continue to increase. She said the goal is to eventually test at least 10% of the county’s population, but her department continues to advise residents to all the nurse hotlines for a referral if they are symptomatic. Councilman Charlie Griego said he has had a lot of inquiries from service organizations that depend on events like bingo and weddings for their revenue. The current state order bans gatherings of more than 10 people, Viera reminded the group.
The variance directs restaurants to use up any outdoor seating first before moving customers inside. City Manager Heather Brooks said the city is planning to expand the outdoor dining experience by perhaps closing a few city streets and parking lots in areas close to restaurants to be used for dining.
Discussions were held about the division created when the governor declared only certain types of businesses as 'essential.' “One size does not fit all,” Mayor Coleman said referring to the population of the SLV compared to the front range. “Just because some of our businesses are non-essential doesn’t need to lead to being non-existent.”
“The county didn’t shut anyone down,” Commission Chairman Michael Yohn said, noting that all rules set are by the governor’s orders. Commissioner Darius Allen encouraged everyone to contact their state legislators, the CDPHE, the governor’s office and even their members of congress. Yohn went on to remind the 40-plus people participating in the Zoom call that Monday is not just Memorial Day. “It’s also Remembrance Day,” he said. “Let’s make it a remembrance and not a day of protest.”