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Q&A: How the 5 Star variance program works with COVID-19 dial changes

Counties that have approved the 5 Star variance program can allow businesses to operate at less restrictive levels.

COLORADO, USA — Several Colorado counties previously in the Red level on the COVID-19 dial moved to Orange on Monday, which means less restrictions for restaurants, gyms, etc.

Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson and Clear Creek are among the counties that moved to Orange on Monday.

Counties can move back and forth between levels on the six-color dial based on three key metrics: new cases, percent positivity and impact on hospitalizations.

For businesses in counties that adopted the state’s 5 Star variance program, it can mean fewer restrictions and even a new color level.

The program encourages businesses to adhere to local public health guidelines by allowing those that meet all of the criteria for the 5 Star certification program to operate at a less restrictive color level than the county is in.

After a business has successfully submitted its application, the county will send an inspector to look it over and make sure the business is in compliance.

If they are approved, the county sends an email with a certificate the business will hang in its front window.

Prior to the change Monday, the 5 Star program allowed restaurants to operate with indoor dining, something that is prohibited in level Red.

Now that those counties that were in level Red have moved to Orange, what does that mean for the 5 Star program?

9NEWS took our questions to Luc Hatlestad, public information officer with Arapahoe County, and Gary Sky, public information officer with Tri-County Health Department.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.

9NEWS: What does the change from level Red to Orange mean for the 5 Star Variance program?

Hatlestad: So, what it means today is that any businesses in Arapahoe County can operate with level Orange restrictions, without being certified to the 5 Star Program. That's a little confusing because we know the governor just moved the county to Orange across the board. It does not mean that businesses can operate and level Yellow restrictions just yet, but they may be able to do so in the next couple of weeks.

When will 5 Star certified businesses be able to operate at level Yellow?

Hatlestad: CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) has told us that they want to see the county's numbers reflect Orange level numbers for the next seven to 14 days before they will allow our businesses to move down yet another level. They just don't want to make that big leap from Red to Yellow that quickly, because that, they fear, would be too unsafe.

Sky: Essentially all level Orange restaurants can have 25% indoor capacity now, but not 50% capacity until the metrics are proven in seven to 14 days.

A press release sent out by CDPHE also explained how the program works as several counties moved to level orange.

“In the framework, we required a 2-week trend in Orange-level metrics in order for 5 Star businesses to open in Yellow. As we move all counties that are Red to Orange based on the improving statewide trend and ample hospital capacity, counties that have already sustained a seven-day trend in Orange and who are operating a 5 Star program will be allowed to open those certified businesses in Yellow. All non 5 Star certified businesses must remain in Orange. Counties that have yet to sustain a seven-day trend in Orange metrics that have a 5 Star program will need to wait until they achieve a seven-day trend in Orange before those businesses can move to Yellow,” the release said.

As of Monday, Hatlestad said Arapahoe County has received 170 applications and about 140 of those are from restaurants.

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