El Paso County Seeks ‘5 Star’ Approval To Increase Business Capacity, Loosen Other Rules

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Mike Hartkom, who owns Solar Roast Coffee based in Pueblo, juggles how to keep his business open, and his employees and customers healthy, during the coronavirus pandemic. He speaks with his Colorado Springs store manager Sheena Hendricksen as barista Brian Galvadon, left, and assistant manager Lexy Hesselberg on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.

El Paso County is moving forward with the state's 5 Star State Certification Program, which allows for increased capacity at local businesses by following certain COVID-19 safety measures.

The county, along with others across the state, was moved by Gov. Jared Polis to a less stringent level of COVID-19 restrictions on Monday. This allowed restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, along with allowances for indoor events and gyms.

Adoption of the state's 5 Star Program could increase that capacity even further, allowing for 50 percent capacity for indoor dining. Businesses have to follow stricter COVID-19 safety guidelines to participate in the program, like daily exposure and symptom checks for employees, recording customer information for contact tracing, and inspections for compliance by local public health officials.

Joe Aldaz, president of the Colorado Springs Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he sees the program as one way to support the local business ecosystem. 

"We know small business is the economic engine that's driving our economy, so we need to be very sensitive to how we allow them to continue to operate," Aldaz said. 

He said while some of the requirements, like installation of new ventilation systems, might not make sense for every business, he is glad there are options.

"At the end of the day, that's their livelihood, so they're gonna do everything within the constraints that we're working in to continue to operate," Aldaz said.

While some in the state have raised questions about the effectiveness of the 5 Star Program, El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said the program is one way to help the county get back to pre-pandemic levels of economic growth.

"The goal is to help as many people as possible survive what we've gotta get through, so when we get to the other side of 2021, they're ready to take advantage of the economy that's come back," VanderWerf said.

VanderWerf said the county submitted an application to the state for the program this week, and are waiting on approval to move forward. He said the county plans to open applications for businesses interested in participating in the coming weeks.