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On Tuesday, February 2nd, the city and county of Denver will be accepting online applications for their new 5-star certification program. The goal is to allow restaurants and certain other establishments (such as gyms, salons, and other businesses that operate below capacity) to demonstrate that they meet certain COVID guidelines in order to be certified on the Colorado at a less restrictive level choose to work COVID as the county as a whole. For restaurants, the main benefits of the program are the increase in indoor capacity and the later requirement for alcohol.
Mayor Michael Hancock announced the program in his briefing on Thursday, January 28th. At the same time, he stated that Denver’s top COVID stats have fallen in the right range to bring the city and county to level orange. (As of January 4th, Denver has been subject to Level Orange restrictions by order of Governor Jared Polis, although most readings were still at Level Red.)
What else does this mean for restaurants and bars? Here are answers to some questions:
Will restaurants be able to run at 50 percent capacity once their application is approved?
The application is currently scheduled for pre-approval of the 5-star program. According to the city and county, Denver “must maintain stable or declining Orange Level metrics according to CDPHE for seven days before the program can be fully implemented.”
If a restaurant applies and gets pre-approved on Feb. 2, it could potentially go live at yellow level seven days after the mayor’s announcement on Jan. 28 – allowing for 50 percent capacity and tables six feet apart . This assumes that the numbers remain at or below the Level Orange area and that an inspection and approval could take place during this period. The city will notify pre-approved companies one by one when they are ready to start operating under the 5-star guidelines so there should be no confusion about a start date.
Cafes, restaurants and other businesses are ready to welcome more guests.
How far are the tables under the different levels with or without 5-star certification?
The green, blue, yellow, and orange levels allow six feet of table space so certification will not affect it. Only when Denver slips back to Level Red and closes the dining rooms will things change and the tables in certified restaurants would have to be set at least ten feet apart (and uncertified restaurants would have to close their dining rooms). But as we’ve seen over the past decade, state officials might decide that keeping dining rooms open is too dangerous when hospitals are full and cases are increasing, even for certified companies. According to the program’s guidelines, “If Denver’s cases, positivity rate, and hospitalizations rise again, the state may push Denver to a more restrictive level and the city could temporarily revoke 5-star corporate certifications.”
Can restaurants with previous citations for COVID violations apply for the program?
The Colorado guidelines for the program state that companies “should not have prior citations for non-compliance with public health regulations.” The Denver sample application asks, “Have you received a public health violation since December 12th?”
If a restaurant doesn’t have 5 star certification, is it not safe to visit?
Not necessarily. Some restaurants may skip the certification process because their dining rooms are too small to benefit from higher capacity as they may not be able to squeeze in more seating by being limited to six feet. Others may choose to voluntarily restrict operations for health and safety reasons. Some restaurants choose to stay completely closed or only offer take-out and delivery services until they can safely reach full capacity.
Do customers need to provide contact information to the restaurant?
One of the rules for qualifying and maintaining 5-star certification is that at least one person from each seated party must provide contact information in the event that positive COVID cases are detected or an outbreak occurs.
What if I see clear violations of the COVID regulations in a 5-star restaurant?
Colorado has set up an online COVID compliance complaint form. Complaints can also be registered with the city and county of Denver by calling 311 or by emailing [email protected]
Do I have to wear a mask when certified restaurants are safe?
Yes, you still have to wear a mask. In fact, 5-star guidelines recommend that customers wear a mask whenever they are not eating or drinking. So whenever you order from your server, wait for your meal, or finish eating and wait for your check, be sure to wear your mask. This is not only to protect yourself, but also to protect the restaurant staff who are exposed to dozens of people every day.
Do restaurants have to pay to apply for 5-star certification?
There is a registration fee that ranges from $ 25 (for restaurants with annual sales of less than $ 1 million) to $ 150 for restaurants with sales of more than $ 1 million. Those that reach $ 1 million to $ 5 million pay $ 75 to apply.
Do you have any other questions about the Denver 5 Star Certification Program or Denver’s COVID-based dining regulations in general? Let us know in the comments or send an email to [email protected]
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Mark Antonation is the Westword Food & Drink Editor. He began eating and writing about every restaurant on Federal Boulevard and continues to cover the diverse international food scene on Metro Denver and the city’s rapidly changing dining landscape. Mark was recognized as an Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association in 2018.