By Andrea Flores

DENVER (CBS4)– Restaurants suffering under COVID-19 restrictions could apply for capacity variances under the new 5 Star program as soon as Friday. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has approved the final requirements for the program.

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While some businesses will be able to apply for variances in their counties, that likely won’t be the case in Denver — just yet.

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Beth Gruitch was optimistic when she heard about the state’s new “5 Star” program that would allow increased capacity and indoor dining for restaurants. She’s a partner in an ownership group that operates four downtown restaurants, including Larimer Square staples Bistro Vendome and Rioja.

“Initially there was hope, a glimmer of hope, that there would be an exception for the restaurants that are practicing safely,” Gruitch said. “There would be hope that we wouldn’t be sitting here in the dead of winter attempting to operate out of an incomplete tent.”

That hope turned to disappointment after a City of Denver COVID-19 news conference on Thursday in which Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was hesitant to answer when the city would roll out the new program.

READ MORE: COVID In Colorado: Governor's Office Lifts Face Mask Mandate For Those Who Are Vaccinated

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“It’s going to be a resource-intensive effort. The reality is that Denver has more businesses that could apply for the program than any other city in state of Colorado. Potentially 7,000 applicants could come forward,” said Hancock. “We want to make sure that it’s done right, and not fast.”

While the city says it needs time to put a plan in place, Gruitch says time is not on the restaurant industry’s side.

“We’re dying,” she said. “We need there to be a sense of urgency, and I understand that the manpower isn’t there to execute this, but let’s figure it out.”

If the 5 Star program isn’t implemented soon, Gruitch worries some businesses won’t survive.

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“We’re pretty resilient in this business, but it feels like one more hit, and they just keep coming,” said Gruitch.

Andrea Flores