More than a week after dozens of Loveland businesses announced they would defy Larimer County’s increased COVID-19 restrictions and stay open, several have changed course in what they’re calling a good-faith effort.
“I am closing my doors as an olive branch to the governor,” Clay Caldwell, owner of Loveland restaurant Betta Gumbo, announced in a news release Wednesday. “Our local officials have heard us, and are working night and day to get a plan in place to help us not have to fully shutter our doors forever.”
Caldwell was one of the more than 65 Loveland business owners who initially announced they would openly defy Larimer County’s increased COVID-19 restrictions starting Nov. 25.
The announcement came a day after Larimer County moved from Level Yellow to Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial on Nov. 24 — a move that banned personal gatherings of any size, closed restaurants to indoor dining, limited office capacity to 10% and canceled indoor entertainment events.
Feeling blue? Seeing red?:Here’s what the levels on Colorado’s COVID-19 ‘dial’ mean
Within a week, the group of dissenters, which billed itself as Small Businesses for a Healthy Loveland, had grown to approximately 100, according to the Wednesday news release.
On Tuesday — one day before their owners announced new plans to change course and follow Level Red restrictions — diners and customers were seen eating and drinking inside Loveland establishments like Betta Gumbo, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and Loveland Chophouse.
By Wednesday, all three of those establishments had shuttered to in-person service in keeping with state and county restrictions. It’s not clear how many of the roughly 100 businesses have decided to do so.
After pushing back on Larimer County’s move to Level Red — claiming that the case data on the county’s COVID-19 dashboard was misleading and that the new restrictions were unfairly weighted against small businesses — the decision to follow public health orders came following the response of state and local leaders.
Soon after the business owners’ Nov. 24 announcement, state lawmakers representing Larimer County wrote to Gov. Jared Polis asking that they be able to join a “5-star” variance protection program piloted in Mesa County.
Under the program, Mesa County businesses that have approval from the county health department can avoid new restrictions when the county changes levels on the state’s COVID-19 dial, according to the Colorado Sun.
Loveland City Council members also recently supported the adoption of a 5-star program in the county, according to a letter they sent to Larimer County officials.
The 5-star program from Mesa County is still in draft form and receiving public feedback through Friday so counties cannot apply to get a variance exemption program of their own just yet.
If the program is expanded outside of Mesa County, counties in dial levels green, blue, yellow and orange would be eligible to be considered for their own 5-star programs, according to the state’s draft framework of the program. Counties in Level Red may be eligible depending on results of the Mesa County pilot project, according to the state health department.
In the meantime, the state health department urged businesses to comply with public health orders, noting in an email to the Coloradoan that under Level Red, businesses are allowed to stay open with limited capacity and, while indoor dining is closed, restaurants may still offer outdoor dining, takeout, curbside and delivery services.
As of Wednesday, 264 new COVID-19 cases had been reported in Larimer County for the previous 24-hour period, hospital utilization was at 78% and 119 COVID-19 patients were in Larimer County hospitals, according to the Larimer County health department.
The county’s positivity rate was at 11.6% Thursday.
Since March, the county has reported 10,247 cases, 182 outbreaks and 76 deaths linked to COVID-19, health department data shows.
COVID-19 in Colorado:Larimer and state case, death and hospital data for December
“We are crying out for rules that will allow us to not have to shutter our doors. And while we have made progress, we still need rules that protect our community and keep small businesses open,” Morgen Harrington, CFO of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, said in the Wednesday news release. “So, while we are closing our doors, this does not mean the fight is over.”
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.