Arapahoe County seeks relaxation of some pandemic limits

Request would affect mall, gyms, eateries, houses of worship


Pointing to a slowing rate of added COVID-19 cases per day — and what the county called “ample hospital capacity” — Arapahoe County has asked the state public-health department for permission to tweak the state’s pandemic-fueled restrictions on gyms, houses of worship and restaurants.

The request also seeks to allow the Town Center at Aurora, the county’s only indoor mall, to reopen its doors, a news release announced.

The county board of commissioners submitted the request June 10 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which sets the state’s restrictions in public health orders, such as the previous stay-at-home or current safer-at-home orders. County commissioners make up the governing body of a county, somewhat similar to city councils.

The push to allow for larger crowds and to open the mall garnered four “yes” votes June 10, and the only other member, Commissioner Nancy Jackson, was absent and excused, according to the documents attached to the request.

What could change

The county aims to adjust Colorado’s statewide rules under the safer-at-home order in regard to businesses in Arapahoe. Among many other specifics, the state’s rules include these:

• Restaurants, as of late May, can host up to 50% of their posted occupancy limit, with no more than 50 patrons total — whichever is less — for indoor dine-in service. For indoor and outdoor seating, different groups must remain a minimum of 6 feet apart, and all employees must wear face coverings.

• As of early June, worship houses can open to 50% of the posted occupancy limit indoors not to exceed 50 people — whichever is less — per room, while meeting the 6-foot distancing requirements between non-household members.

• Also as of early June, gyms can hold up to 25% capacity, or 50 people — whichever is fewer — per room, as long as people can stay 6 feet apart. 

Arapahoe County seeks to raise the crowd limits as follows:

• Allow restaurants to offer food or beverage for on-premises consumption up to 50% of the posted occupancy code with patrons spaced 6 feet apart between seats at different tables.

• Allow houses of worship to open to 50% of the posted occupancy code per room, with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person.

• Allow gyms to open to 50% of the posted occupancy code with people spaced 6 feet apart, ensuring a minimum of 28 square feet per person.

Bringing mall back

Under Colorado’s safer-at-home order, indoor malls may not open to the public for entry, although retailers operating in indoor malls that have their own entrance from the outside may allow the public inside.

The county proposes to allow its only indoor mall -- the Town Center at Aurora, near East Alameda Avenue and Interstate 225 -- to open with a slew of precautions.

Those include limiting daily visitors to 30% of building capacity, with one person per 55 square feet; reducing hours to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday to ensure thorough cleaning; and to “consider offering special hours of operation for vulnerable individuals,” the request says.

The tweaks Arapahoe County is seeking are called a “variance” from the state’s rules. Variances allow counties that are not experiencing a high rate of COVID-19 transmission to tailor policies to local conditions, according to the state public-health department.

The county’s request for malls came with restrictions similar to Jefferson and Douglas counties, according to an Arapahoe County news release. Jefferson and Douglas — along with numerous other counties statewide — have been granted variances.

For a county’s plan to be considered, the area’s local public health agency must endorse the plan, local hospitals must verify that they have capacity to serve all people needing their care, the county commissioners must vote to adopt the plan and counties with sovereign tribal nations must obtain a letter of support from tribes.

Although Arapahoe County has one of the highest COVID-19 case counts in Colorado, it has seen a declining trend in daily case numbers since hitting a peak in early May, the news release notes.

The county has implemented local measures to contain the virus, including increased testing and contact tracing in partnership with the Tri-County Health Department, the public health agency for Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties.


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