Some Colorado Restaurants Desperate To Open Are Negotiating With County Health Departments

Coronavirus COVID-19 Restaurant Keystione
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A sign at a restaurant at Keystone’s River Run base area advises visitors May 4, 2020, that its closed hopes to open again in June.

Public health departments in eastern Colorado say their restaurants are in compliance with statewide health orders, but are grappling with what eateries will look like once they’re allowed to reopen.

Restaurant owners in Elbert County said they want to follow statewide and county rules to limit the spread of COVID-19 but have grown frustrated they can’t open their doors for dine-in services yet. In the meantime, some owners have proposed different ideas for how to effectively reopen to Stacey Rinehart, the environmental health specialist with Elbert County Public Health.

“It’s still in discussion, but they’re definitely thinking in terms of do we keep people safe and be able to operate,” Rinehart said. “The bottom line is that for many of the businesses, the restaurants, they're mom-and-pop. So this is their livelihood and it's scary to not know what does tomorrow look like, what does next week look like.”

The health department is working on a checklist for what it will be looking for when restaurants do open, Rinehart said. A few ideas include removing tables, limiting group sizes and even modifying the menu so that the kitchen staff is easily separated.

“So proposing those ideas and then letting the restaurants really be able to think through that process,” she said. “Sometimes that looks different depending on their set up, what their menu is. So really working with them to make it flow because it's much better to get long-term compliance that way.”

If a restaurant were to reopen before they were allowed, the health department would first work in a “diplomatic way” to get it in compliance, Rinehart said. Enforcement for non-compliance would depend on how far the owners would be willing to go.

But Rinehart said she has a good working relationship with restaurant owners in Elbert County. The county has about 17 restaurants, and she said she wants to work with those owners to figure out a plan for compliance that isn’t just a blanket fix.

Spokeswoman Mary Brumage with the Northeast Colorado Health Department said there are no restaurants that have defied statewide public health orders so far. The health department covers Morgan, Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma counties.

Brumage said she wasn’t sure exactly what the protocol would be if a restaurant decided to reopen before they were allowed, but the environmental health group has checked in with each restaurant.

“They've had contact with the restaurants and all of that pretty regularly and have actually personally gone and talked to every single one of them,” she said.

Brumage added that the department monitors about 100 restaurants.

Karen's Kafe and Stephanie's Bar & Grill in Calhan, east of Colorado Springs, has been serving people in-house since May 6. El Paso County Public Health told KRDO News that it has issued a cease-and-desist order but the restaurant remains open. The health department did not return CPR’s request for comment Wednesday.

Gov. Jared Polis forced a restaurant to close in Castle Rock after it had opened on Mother’s Day.