On February 6, citing a steady drop in new COVID-19 cases and other positive statistics, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allowed counties across Colorado to move down a level on the CDPHE's Dial 2.0, which controls safety guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.
In metro Denver counties, that meant that businesses were now operating at Level Yellow rules, just a month after they'd moved down to Level Orange. Further confusing matters: Just two days before, the state had approved Denver's application for the 5 Star Certification Program, and the city was already issuing 5 Star Certifications to restaurants that had met specific health and safety measures, which also allowed them to operate under less restrictive conditions.
While the timing of the drop to Level Yellow wasn't great for business owners who had spent time and money on obtaining 5 Star Certification — about 300 businesses had already applied, and nineteen of those had been audited and approved by February 5 — both moves should prove good for customers, and for eateries' bottom line.
At Level Yellow, restaurants can seat up to 50 percent capacity (up from 25 percent), with a maximum of fifty people per room — unless the space is sizable, in which case the limit can go as high as 150, using an approved social-distancing calculation. Using the calculation (which gives a 12-by-12-foot area for every customer in the building), restaurants larger than 7,200 square feet can expand to as many as 150 patrons indoors per room, excluding staff, within their usable space.
In addition, on-premises last call moves from 10 to 11 p.m., and businesses can apply for site-specific outdoor variances.
5 Star Certification comes with additional perks, primarily in the form of added reassurance of safety for customers, since 5 Star window stickers and signs let diners know which places have been approved. Under this state program, restaurants are required to upgrade HVAC filtration to meet strict specifications, create a list of EPA-approved cleaning supplies, and maintain a contact-tracing list of at least one person from every party seated. Table spacing isn't affected; at levels Green through Yellow, tables must be at least six feet apart, whether a restaurant receives 5 Star Certification or not.
Certified restaurants will be able to drop another level sooner than other businesses in the county, though. Once the City and County of Denver sees reduced cases, hospitalizations and test positivity for at least seven days, establishments can move from Level Yellow to Level Blue restrictions. But there's one other catch: In order for any business to move to Level Blue, 70 percent of the county's population ages 70 and up must have received at least one vaccination dose, which Governor Jared Polis says should happen by the end of February for the entire state.
In addition to the City and County of Denver, other metro counties that have 5 Star Certification programs include Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas and Jefferson.
If this is all a little confusing for customers, calling the restaurant where you plan on dining is still the best way to find out its hours of operation and protocols (websites and social media often don't get updated because things are changing so quickly). And no matter what, you'll still need to wear a mask.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.