On the heels of getting state permission to reopen restaurants, gyms and houses of worship with restrictions, Douglas County Commissioners are preparing several new variance requests to submit to state health officials, including requests to reopen playgrounds and pools and hold the Douglas County Fair and livestock auction.
The commissioners agreed on nine new requests, Commissioner Lora Thomas said May 29.
“We know part of the success we're going to have in getting these to open is convincing the state health department that because our (COVID-19) numbers are so low here, … we can increase our gathering size,” Thomas said.
The current state order limits social gatherings to 10. Thomas noted the Park Meadows mall can fit 175 people safely within its walls under the state's safety guidelines.
The requests include permission to reopen pools, playgrounds, movie and performance theaters, bowling alleys, social event centers like the Highlands Ranch Mansion and wedding venues, libraries and adult and youth team sports.
The commissioners and county staff, led by planning services director Terrence Quinn, will also submit a request for permission to hold the Douglas County Fair this summer and another one for permission to hold graduation ceremonies at individual schools. The fair has not yet been canceled.
“We want to give our kids back the sense of being kids,” Thomas said.
Thomas added the Douglas County Fair, held in Castle Rock, is important for kids in 4-H who raise livestock specifically for the annual event. The fair has run continuously since 1918.
All variance requests will follow the county's suppression plan, which provides information on the county's cases of COVID-19. Thomas said one person has been hospitalized due to the virus in the seven days ending May 29. Each of the county's five hospitals must sign off on each request.
The state approved the Douglas County variance requesting a return to dine-in service at restaurants on May 22, five days before the health department allowed for the same throughout the state.
“Our staff said to us, 'Commissioners, we have the bandwidth to keep writing these variances. We understand how to do it now. We've been successful, so why risk waiting when you could get things open for our citizens?'” Thomas said.
Thomas said commissioners' top priorities were to get pools and playgrounds open again. The requests must convince the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that the county is capable of reopening certain facilities while managing social distancing guidelines and monitoring COVID-19 cases in the county.
Large salons — ones with individual rooms for massages or facials, for example — are not in the commissioner's stack of new variance requests. Thomas said the county will wait on word from the state June 1 regarding large salons.
The variance requests were not submitted as of May 29. How soon the requests would be approved or denied is a mystery. The Park Meadows mall request to reopen its interior corridors took 10 days to approve, whereas the request to reopen restaurants, gyms and churches took four days.
The county is working closely with the Tri-County Health Department, Thomas said, to ensure proper safety guidelines are noted in each request. Officials are working with business leaders and experts in various fields to establish guidelines for what is needed at a given facility.
“Our citizens are healthy and they take care of themselves,” Thomas said. “We started off in a better place than some counties because we've proven we're ready, looking at our numbers.”
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