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Mesa County COVID-19 certification program for businesses serves as model for statewide initiative

Mesa County's program is intended to be a resource for people looking for businesses that are complying with public health orders.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is asking for public input on a COVID-19 best practice certification program for businesses based on the one implemented by Mesa County over the summer.

Mesa County Public Health's (MCPH) website says the Variance Protection Program, also known as the 5-star rating program, is a collaborative effort between that department and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce to recognize establishments implementing public health recommendations related to COVID-19. 

Businesses there can fill out an interest form, the website says, and a MCPH representative will visit the establishment and do an audit of their procedures as they relate to COVID-19. 

The representative will then score them on a series of items required in the current public health order and outlined in the reopening plan, the website says.

MCPH said the project started as a resource for people looking for businesses that are complying with public health orders and to provide a list of safe places to go.

"We started the program to be a safe place for our residents, we built a directory out of it," said Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr.

"Businesses now want to do it to be more open, but we have to maintain that trust for our residents as well. Because we built this as a safe place to go, so they’re relying on us to do that.

There are a number of requirements a business must meet in order to be certified under the statewide program, including a written plan for implementing or exceeding state prevention guidelines, implementing or exceeding local prevention and having a clear compliance and enforcement plan.

Other practices that are required for certification include 100% mask-wearing among staff and customers, daily COVID symptom checks of employees and recording customers' contact information for contact tracing purposes.

Any business that has been cited for noncompliance with a public health order is ineligible to be certified.

Certified businesses may be rewarded with less strict capacity limits than what is required by their county's position on the state's dial framework. 

"These are the businesses doing their part for our community by implementing these best practices," he said. "They're not trying to get around anything, they want to be responsible. And they know by doing so they're not going to be a source of infection."

Kuhr said the state allowed Mesa County to continue this program as cases climbed, and the county dial moved into Levels Yellow and Orange. But now that the county is under Level Red, the state has allowed the program on a pilot-basis.

"We've got a program in Mesa County where we can control the environment, we can provide this safe place," Kuhr explained. "So it's really not a threat to our residents. Why would we not make this a win-win to get this done? We don’t have to close every single business down for COVID."

Kuhr said 5-Star businesses in Mesa County are not COVID-problem spots, and he hopes the businesses following all public health orders won't face the burdens of restrictions if they aren't the source of infection.

"Those have been the very least of our issues as far a spread of COVID goes," he said. "We have the data, why would we interfere with those if those aren’t the places where the infection is coming from?"

He added,

"Why should we punish those businesses for doing the right thing when, really, we need to figure out a way to address the family member spread [of COVID-19], the private gathering spread."

The state will be reviewing several weeks of data from Mesa County's program to determine if it's compatible with Level Red and make a final determination whether red counties are eligible following review of stakeholder input and analysis of how such a program would work within the dial framework, according to a CDPHE release. 

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Members of the public can review the draft certification program details and submit comments through this form

The deadline to submit comments is Friday, Dec. 4.