COVID-19  May 27, 2020

Fort Collins, Larimer economic leaders talk reopening businesses

LOVELAND — Economic leaders for Fort Collins, Loveland and Larimer County said ongoing communication is likely the biggest key toward business reopenings in the coming days, as the county begins to slowly allow commerce to flow freely after months of state-enforced business closures.

The call, jointly hosted by the Fort Collins and Loveland chambers of commerce, featured Adam Crowe, business development manager for Larimer County; Kevin Unger, president of UCHealth’s northern region; and SeonAh Kendall, senior economic manager for Fort Collins.


Testing and medical capacity

Unger said cases of COVID-19 in UCHealth’s Northern Colorado hospitals are down “dramatically” in the past couple of weeks and are now in the lower double digits. However, the system’s flagship hospital in Denver has 67 inpatient cases. A prolonged social distancing effort helped reduce the spread significantly, he said.

He told listeners to continue to monitor and ask employees for any signs of having COVID or another infectious disease, particularly for small companies.

“It’s making sure we’re sticking to hygiene, keeping an eye on each other and making sure our employees are not working while they’re symptomatic,” he said.

The chambers also noted they launched, a platform for regional businesses to buy and sell PPE between themselves.


Health code variances

Larimer County was granted a variance over the weekend from “safer-at-home” measures implemented by the state, just days before Gov. Jared Polis lifted the outright ban on in-person dining. Gyms, theaters, hotels and in-person services were included in the county’s variance and can open ahead of similar businesses in other Colorado counties that don’t have approved variances.

Adam Crowe, a business development manager for Larimer County, said the county is trying to adhere to the state’s guidelines as much as possible so restaurant owners aren’t having to follow two sets of rules. The current checklist on the county’s website outlines the steps eateries have to take with staff and space, but they do not require an inspection to reopen as long as they can maintain every requirement on the list.

He also said the county clerk and recorder’s office is developing an expedited approval process for changing liquor licenses to reflect the larger outdoor areas where guests could drink.

County officials plan to enforce their rules based on customer complaints and plan to take an “educational” approach to fixing violations, he said. The county would, however, punish a company if it fails to take action after multiple violations.

“Essentially, it’s working with each of those individual businesses to make sure that they can provide the safest environment, and also within the vein that every business is different, every floor plan is different, and what makes sense for your business,” he said.

Polis’ order allows bars, breweries and other primarily alcohol-serving establishments to reopen if they prepare and serve food on their premises provided they fill out a checklist. That rule also applies to theaters, bowling alleys, camps and other businesses that produce food in-house, Crowe said.

Kendall said Fort Collins is allowing restaurants and retailers to provide service onto parking lots and adjacent empty outdoor space as a way to spread out guests. Doing so would require applying for approval from city officials.

Kendall also noted several Fort Collins businesses have been able to bring back office staff at limited capacity after reorganizing their floor plans to keep workers separated.

“Sharing with each other, I think, is going to be the best resource on that,” she said.


Enforcing masks

Fort Collins will continue requiring face coverings in public businesses as long as the county does, Kendall said. In response to a question from a listener asking what to do if a guest at a business refuses to don a mask or comply with social distancing rules, she said the emphasis needs to be on educating people to the benefits of those protective measures.

“The consumers, again, have a responsibility to make sure that all businesses in our community can stay open,” she said.

She also noted some people may not wear masks because of underlying health issues or cultural stigmas against covering their faces, and urged listeners to not jump to assumptions when they encounter an unmasked customer.

Crowe echoed the statement on the reopenings requiring a partnership between businesses and customers, saying there’s a difference in attitude toward residents wanting to restart life as it was before and those still anxious about safety from contracting COVID. He said the key is communicating with everyone involved in the enterprise.

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