As Jefferson County’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to go down, the county commissioners have instructed county staff to seek a new variance from the state’s current Safer-at-Home rules that …
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2,553 — Total number of confirmed and probable cases
205 — Total number of confirmed and probable deaths
31 — New cases in the last week (June 15-22)
— Statistics as of June 22
As Jefferson County’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to go down, the county commissioners have instructed county staff to seek a new variance from the state’s current Safer-at-Home rules that would allow a swath of businesses ranging from movie theaters to libraries to reopen.
One of the primary requests the county is planning to make will be ask to substantially increase the limits for the number of people that can gather in a location to as much as 175 people inside and 250 people outside.
Jefferson County Attorney Kym Sorrells said county staff will ultimately determine how large of gathering size limits to request based on whether the county’s COVID-19 case levels are considered low-, medium- or high-risk under variance criteria recently released by the state.
When the county requested its first variance, which was granted on June 8, Jefferson County was considered to be in the high-risk category because it had seen 50-100 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks prior to submitting the variance (excluding cases associated with residential facility outbreaks). The county was granted a variance consistent with the high-risk category allowing up to 50 people in an indoor space and 125 in an outdoor space.
However, Sorrells said Jeffco was on the verge of being into the low risk category, which is defined as 25 or fewer cases per 100,000 people, which would allow it to apply for the higher variance.
Sorrells said the state has not specifically stated what constitutes a gathering so the limits are currently being treated as applying to any space where people gather, including restaurants and bars.
“If we’re able to open up indoors to 175 people that should take care of a lot of the concerns we are hearing from restaurants,” said Sorrells. “We are hearing from restaurants that are like, I have a huge restaurant so being able to seat 50 patrons doesn’t help me. But if they could open to 175 people, then then I think that’s a different ballgame.”
Indoor restaurants and gathering spaces would still be subject to a 50% capacity limit.
The county will also ask for permission to open movie theaters, performing arts venues, libraries and bingo halls, all of which remain closed, at 50% capacity.
The variance request will also seek to allow spectators to return to local sports venues, including Bandimere Speedway. Sorrells said the city will seek a cap on the percentage of a sports venue’s occupancy rather than a hard cap on the total number of spectators allowed.
“There’s been a lot of questions as to `well if you could have 125 or 175 or 200 person gathering outside then why can’t you have spectator sports is they can socially distance as well?’” she said. “How is that different sitting you know, in a stadium watching that versus sitting in an outdoor venue watching a church service and so?”
The other change the county plans to request include the ability for facials to be offered in the county (which would require a mask not be worn by the person receiving the facial).
The commissioners all expressed support for moving forward with the second variance request.
“We are hoping those (case) numbers are great and this is going to alleviate a lot of stress on a lot of businesses,” said Commissioner Libby Szabo.
However, Commissioner Casey Tighe said he also wanted his balance to reopen as much as possible with the need to keep case numbers low. Any variance granted by the state will automatically be revoked if case numbers rise to a certain level.
“What people have to understand is, the more we relax these rules, the more likely we’re gonna fall backwards and everybody loses in that case,” he said. “So, I think we want to, try and get some accommodations for a few things, but I don’t want to go too crazy because I think that’ll hurt us in the long run.”
Those sentiments were echoed by JCPH Executive Director Mark B. Johnson in a June 17 statement.
“While things are heading in the right direction, COVID-19 is still a threat and is still widespread in our community,” Johnson said. “We are certainly not out of the woods yet, and I can’t stress enough that we can’t let our guard down just yet — lives depend on it.”
The county planned to submit the variance request on or before June 19. The state typically takes 7-10 business days to make a decision on variance requests.
The latest COVID-19 statistics for the county:
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