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The move to allow hotels and motels to open their rooms to guests began gradually on Monday and will continue through the beginning of June so long as the county’s COVID-19 situation remains stable, Chaffee County Public Health announced.

On May 18, lodging businesses were allowed to reopen at 25 percent occupancy averaged over the week, provided they complete a safe business certification with the county public health department. On Friday, May 22, hotels will be allowed to expand their occupancy to 50 percent through May 31.

On June 1, hotels will be allowed to resume 100 percent occupancy, assuming that COVID-19 cases remain stable through each phase.

“Bed and breakfasts, chalets, lodges and hostels” will be allowed to reopen under these rules, but vacation rentals by owner (VRBO), AirBnBs, private campgrounds and RV parks will not be allowed to reopen until a later date, according to an update from Chaffee County Public Health.

The state of Colorado’s latest public health policy related to business closures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 allowed some non-essential businesses to resume work at a reduced capacity at the beginning of the month, but offers no dates on when other businesses like restaurants and bars may reopen following the state’s Stay at Home order in March.

According to the latest state public health order, bars, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, cafes and coffeehouses are still on the list of businesses and places of public accommodation that are “closed to ingress, egress, use and occupancy by members of the public.”

Gyms are also prohibited from opening to the general public under the order, except for personal trainers working with groups of less than four or to groups who are all members of the same household.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a request for a variance from the state public order which, if approved, would allow the county to set its own timetable for when those businesses could open. As of press time Wednesday morning, that variance request was still pending. Nine such local orders have been approved by the state department of health.

If Chaffee County’s request is approved, bars would remain closed under the variance, CCPH director Andrea Carlstrom said. Bars attached to restaurants would also remain closed unless they could maintain safe distancing.

Restaurant capacity would be assessed every 2 weeks. At the special meeting to discuss the variance request earlier this month, Commissioner Rusty Granzella asked if the capacity could be assessed weekly and Carlstrom said the 2-week frame would follow the incubation period and allow them to assess how the actions have impacted health.

The commissioners, however, decided not to add short-term rentals, like houses, to the request even though two owners speaking during the meeting’s public comment period argued that they pose fewer risks than hotels.

“It’s not that we don’t have full confidence they can provide safe lodging,” Carlstrom said at the meeting. “Our grave concern is if we open too soon, the county is inundated with visitors and we don’t have the capacity to keep the community healthy.”

She said if the governor doesn’t lift restrictions on short-term rentals by June 1, they could request a variance then, but said “at this time, we can’t handle another layer.”

Aside from VRBOs, hotels and other places of accommodation have not been prohibited from reopening by the state orders – only by county public health orders – meaning that the county can move forward on a reopening plan regarding those businesses without the variance.

Public Health Order 20-28, issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health in response to Gov. Jared Polis’s Safer at Home executive order D 2020 044, lists hotels and places of accommodation as critical businesses, excluding from that definition “private, short-term vacation-style rentals such as those arranged through an online hosting platform, including but not limited to VRBO or AirBnB, homeowner rentals and privately owned residences for rent that are rented for a period of 30 days or fewer, except if offered for use for the public health response.”

While counties need to seek variances from the state to enforce regulations that are more permissive than the state order, county orders that are more restrictive, such as Chaffee County’s order requiring lodging to close, supersede the state regulations.

Campgrounds on public lands began to open this week at the discretion of land management agencies, but “private campgrounds will be phased in under subsequent guidance,” the state’s Safer at Home website says.

On U. S. Forest Service land, dispersed camping is allowed, but discouraged. Pike San Isabel National Forest and Cimmaron and Comanche National Grasslands will begin opening developed campsites after May 31. Trails, trailheads and parking services remain open.

The Bureau of Land Management also lifted restrictions on camping in its managed lands in Chaffee County Monday in concert with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s decision to reopen campgrounds in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, said Brant Porter, the spokesman for BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office.

Porter notes that while there are no longer any COVID-specific regulations in place on camping in BLM lands, Stage 2 fire restrictions are in place in Chaffee County.

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