Coronavirus, El Paso County, Exclusives, Mesa County, Monument, Original Report, Scott Weiser, Uncategorized, Weld County

Restaurant rebellion spreads; critics say dining shutdown not supported by data

DENVER–As positive tests for COVID-19 pile up and Governor Polis shuts down restaurants again, statistics from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) show that restaurants are actually not major sources of transmission of the virus to customers.

Over 20 counties have as of late been mandated to adapt a new “level red” status on the state’s COVID dial, which closes already struggling restaurants to indoor dining.

An analysis of CDPHE outbreak data shows that since the beginning of the pandemic in Colorado, statewide only 51 customers have been infected in restaurant outbreaks. Restaurant staff bears the brunt of infections, with 770 confirmed and probable cases since March 12.

A.B. Tellez, owner of Rosie’s Diner in Monument, told Complete Colorado that in late October one of his servers was infected, probably from attending a college study group, and infected one other employee about four days later. On November 2, Tellez voluntarily shut down the diner and sent all employees home.

The diner was closed for two weeks and all employees were tested. During the closure Tellez said he had to throw away about $8,000 worth of food that had been ordered just before the shutdown.

Five days after reopening, Tellez is is being forced to shut down inside service…again. El Paso County moved to “level red” on Friday.

The diner will remain open for take-out, but Tellez says he must lay off most of his servers and some other staff.

Tellez says his business usually grosses about $45,000 per week and his basic expenses just to keep the doors open is about $25,000 per week, not including consumables and payroll. He says his average profit margin is just 4-5%. Since the shutdowns first began in early 2020, Tellez estimates he has lost more than $360,000.

Rosie’s Diner is typical of independent small businesses in most respects. But Tellez owns both the land and the building, unlike the typical lease operation that rents the building.

Tellez said independent owner/operators like him who own their facilities stand to lose everything, potentially including their retirement funds, if they go bankrupt.

The Colorado Restaurant Association found that even before this latest shutdown, at least 62% of Colorado restaurants were unlikely to survive the ongoing COVID restrictions.

“There is no science supporting the idea that restaurants are unsafe or are responsible as a prime spreader of the virus,” said Tellez.

Tellez is not alone in criticizing CDPHE and Governor Polis’ decision to shut down the restaurant industry.

Among others, Weld and Mesa counties and towns including Castle Rock are among those refusing to comply with Polis’ latest mandate.

As previously reported in Complete Colorado, nearly 100 Loveland restaurants, breweries and other businesses are simply refusing to shut down.

Logan County Commissioner and President of the Northeast Colorado Board of Health Byron Pelton, in a November 24 email to Complete Colorado said, “We are seeing cases from traveling outside our county. Our local health department was working on a public health order to allow our restaurants to remain open because if they were to close, we only live 40 miles from Nebraska and they have restaurants open across the border. According to the data we have in Logan County most of our cases are coming from small family gatherings, going to work sick, and traveling outside our county. Why would we want to encourage behavior to go traveling to Sidney, Nebraska to eat a dine in meal?”

But, says Pelton, when they made the request to CDPHE, “We were told that because we received our letter informing us we were in the level red on the dial, we were not able to have a public health order to keep the restaurants open.”

“We need the ability as local governments to tailor how we can fight this virus. Blanket solutions are not working,” Pelton continued.

El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf told Complete Colorado Friday he is concerned with CDPHE’s movement of El Paso County into the red category on its dial.

“I am concerned about the state’s directive to go from orange to red in El Paso County,” said VanderWerf. “Obviously, we want to do everything we can to be safe, but we also have to be open because people need jobs so they can pay their mortgages and put food on the table. I have a great concerned about whether or not this is a proper balance.”

VanderWerf believes the shutdown is taking place without considering the lag in CDPHE data input.

“If you go on the El Paso County public health website, you would see that there’s the beginning of improving trends, which actually might be the results of having converted from yellow to orange,” VanderWerf said. “But the state took us from yellow to orange and then almost immediately took us from orange to red and really did not give us sufficient time to see if going to orange was going to work.”

VanderWerf agrees with Tellez that CDPHE outbreak data shows that in-person dining is safe for customers.

“I am concerned about highly restricting restaurants and closing down in-room dining because I think our restaurants, and in particular the restaurants in El Paso County, have been very responsible stewards in managing COVID19 spread,” said VanderWerf. “They’ve had all kinds of protocols. And to me, it feels like closing down restaurants in El Paso County is punishing good behavior.”

 

From the November 25, 2020 CDPHE outbreak data file. Numbers may differ from the CDPHE web page. Categories shown are concatenations of the more than 75 different “COVID Setting Types” and have been re-labled to reduce clutter.

Below is an expanded table showing the CDPHE “COVID Setting Type” categories.

CDPHE “Covid Setting” table category expansion

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