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Larimer County drafts Level Up pilot program to help business owners

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Posted at 5:37 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 07:37:36-05

LARIMER COUNTY— Nearly half of Colorado counties are in Level Red and Larimer County is now hoping to launch a pilot program to help businesses survive the pandemic.

The pilot program is called Level Up. The plan was drafted by local business owners in Larimer County, county commissioners, and the health department. It aims to increase health and safety practices, which in return would allow business owners to operate one level below the county's current red zone. Level Red represents severe risk and tightens restriction. Under the current guidelines, restaurants can only offer curbside, delivery, or outdoor dining and limiting capacity at gyms.

Executive Vice President of Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce Ann Hutchison said they were inspired by Mesa County's 5-Star program.

Diane Schwenke, the president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the 5-Star program was launched in July in Mesa County as a variance protection plan. Businesses had the option to opt into the program. The goal was to help educate business owners on safety practices during the pandemic and inform customers about safety precautions in place to keep them safe. In November, the county transitioned into Level Red, and the 5-Star program evolved into a pilot program approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The pilot program allows businesses to operate at Level Orange, with fewer restrictions, even though the county remains at Level Red.

Level Up is a little different, but the goal is the same.

"We're incredibly hopeful that we will be able to find a pathway forward that support business while also keeping our community very safe," Hutchison said.

If approved, businesses will have to apply for the program, which will require owners to implement a contact tracing plan, assure only one household is at a table, follow mask and social distancing guidelines and more.

"If a business has been closed by the state or by the Liquor Enforcement Division, they would not be eligible," Hutchison said.

This new plan will include a communication program, ambassador program and local enforcement options. Hutchison said the county is considering hiring contractors to ensure businesses follow the guidelines set forth.

Morgen Harrington is the co-owner of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland. She was one of dozens of business owners in Larimer County who initially refused to follow the Red Level guidelines. Harrington had a change of heart when she discovered her business could be stripped of their manufacturing license for failing to comply with the health department restrictions.

"This is our life. Without this, there is a trickle-down effect. We lose this, we lose our home," Harrington said.

The brewery's barrel room has been converted into an outdoor seating area. A cold breeze blows in as customers sit next to heaters bundled up, sipping their beer. The large garage door must stay open to meet the county guidelines of outdoor seating.

Harrington said she expects business to drop when temperatures take a dip.

"As soon as the snow hits, there goes all of our outdoor seating," she said.

Larimer County Commissioners will review the draft pilot program on Tuesday before submitting it to Gov. Jared Polis.

"We are waiting for him to be our night in shining armor," Harrington said.

If the program is approved, she said they can close their garage door, keep customers warm and reopen their taproom.

"Our taproom is a huge part of our income and without it, it's not enough to pay the bill," Harrington said.

Hutchison hopes to implement the pilot program 24 to 48 hours after receiving approval from the state.

Denver7 reached out to the governor's office for a comment on Level Up, but was advised to reach out to the CDPHE. CDPHE did not comment on Level Up but instead addressed that they are reviewing data from the Mesa County pilot program and pointed to theproposed state framework plan derived from the 5-Star program. The health department requested feedback on the5 StarState Certification Framework.

CDPHE plans to use the data collected to determine if the framework is compatible and can be implemented in red counties.