By Alan Gionet

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado is considering a plan to allow businesses to increase their capacity limits even while counties are in Level Red. It’s an effort to keep those businesses alive.

“Our staff are taking the brunt of this,” said Arvada bar and restaurant owner Scott Spears.

This week, they’re getting their first slim checks since a ban on indoor dining, and he knows it hurts. There’s not much more he can do.

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“I don’t want to think about how much money we’ve spent,” he said about the changes they’ve made to comply with rules. “But we’ve spent well over $50,000 or $60,000 just for the wintertime.”

He was becoming a “serial entrepreneur” here opening business after business. He paid $5,500 to buy a bus he’s parked outside Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations. Inside they’re been able to place three tables.

The windows are open and the air flows through. It’s a way of adding tables. They’ve bought heaters and fire pits.

“We do everything that the county and the state are telling us to do and knock on wood that has worked so far for us. We haven’t had any outbreaks that we know of. We’ve had a few employees who have contracted it somewhere else.”

Then they do the right thing and keep them home. There’s distancing and mask wearing and they follow protocols.

“I would say it’s frustrating knowing neighbors, other people that aren’t following the rules when we’re trying to follow them to a tee. We need this to go away. So we’re trying to do our part, but we also need to stay in business. We need our employees to make money. So we have to all come together and make it all work together.”

He’s interested in a draft proposal the state is circulating to create a certification program that might allow businesses in red COVID-19 dial counties to get greater capacity. The businesses would have to take additional precautions.

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Tables would have to be 10 feet apart. Mask wearing would have to be monitored vigilantly. Among the most difficult, businesses would have to record the name and phone number of customers for use in contact tracing. Spears thinks that one would be pretty difficult, but many of the others, says they’re already doing.

Counties would have to set up an administrative committee and demonstrate the ability to monitor the program. None of it easy, but maybe a way to allow more people.

Mesa County already has its own program it calls a Five Star or “Variance Protection Program.” Hundreds of businesses applied. The state is awaiting good information on how that county’s program is doing before allowing an expansion.

“I would love to see this implemented statewide,” said Mesa County’s executive director of Public Health Jeff Kuhr. “A statewide order closing down businesses is targeting the wrong place. We’ve always known, everyone knows this, informal gatherings of friends and family are the source of transmission right now.”

He says there have been cases among workers, but few of workers to customers.

(credit: CBS)

“We’ve had very, very few transmissions and no outbreaks from a retail place to its customers.”

He includes restaurants in that definition. Mesa County says Kuhr is far better off than places where local leaders are opposing state guidance.

“And it is actually opening up businesses within a controlled environment that we know they’re providing a safe space for our residents. That’s far better than saying we’re ignoring what the state’s bringing us and we’re opening up.”

Spears, feels there’s an opportunity in the draft. The state is taking public comment on it through Dec. 4.

“If you’re following the rules, you’re following the rules and you should be rewarded for that. I guess we’re curious how they’re going to enforce all of that. Because we haven’t seen a lot of enforcement.”

Just another of a tough series of decisions on a tough issue.

Alan Gionet