How Changes to Colorado’s COVID Dial Affect Restaurants

The details about dial changes, and how the RESTAURANTS Act isn't quite dead...yet.

Map of Colorado counties indicating which counties are at levels blue, yellow and orange.
The vast majority of restaurants in Colorado are now operating at Level Yellow or lower. /

Just 10 Colorado counties are still operating under Level Orange restrictions as of this past weekend; the rest of are now able to seat indoors at 50 percent capacity under levels Yellow or Blue. The Colorado Restaurant Association has the details. Plus, the RESTAURANTS Act continues to limp along as it’s reintroduced at the federal level with a few tweaks to account for the fact that its been over six months since the legislation first appeared in Congress and we’re now in a completely new year (heavy sigh).

The following information comes from the CRA’s February 5 and 6 newsletters. Sign up to receive the full versions here. And take a gander at its Coronavirus Resource Center and COVID-19 Reopening Resources for general info.

Dial 2.0 Eases Restrictions on Restaurants

On Friday, February 5, Governor Jared Polis announced several changes to the state COVID-19 dial. The most important change for restaurants is that effective at 9 a.m. February 6, a number of counties were shifted to Level Yellow or Level Blue, allowing for increased capacity. 

Level Yellow capacity limits for restaurants include: 

  • 50% capacity or 50 people per room (whichever is less) with 6 feet of distancing (or up to 150 people within their usable space calculated using the Distancing Space Calculator), indoors at restaurants 
  • 11 p.m. on-premise last call for alcohol service 
  • Eligibility for outdoor site-specific variances  

Click here for Level Yellow capacity limits.

Level Blue capacity limits include: 

  • 50% capacity or 175 people indoors (whichever is less) with 6 feet of distancing
  • 12 a.m. on-premise last call for alcohol service 

Click here for Level Blue capacity limits.

The Governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are revising the dial to account for the continued vaccination of high risk individuals, those aged 70 and up and healthcare workers. The primary update to the framework is lowered thresholds for COVID-19 metrics that dictate which level each county is at on the dial, but counties will also be able to move between the thresholds faster. The new Dial 2.0 also considers access to vaccinations.

Here’s what else is changing:

  • Because caution is still a priority, counties in yellow with a 5 Star Business Program may only operate in Level Blue when 70% of the population aged 70 and up have been vaccinated with at least one dose. This is expected to happen by the end of the month.
  • Counties will only need to demonstrate 7 day instead of 14 day metrics for disease incidence, level of testing (positivity percentage), and hospitalizations, for a more swift ability to move between colors.
  • There are tighter metrics on the level of community testing (measured by positivity percentage) in Level Yellow and Orange.
  • The State will consider additional metrics for counties under 30,000 population due to variability in rates.
  • Mitigation plans will not be required before moving a county into a more restrictive level, which will facilitate the swiftness of the move. They are highly encouraged before a county hits the new level with its metrics.

Here’s what will remain the same:

  • The color label of each level will remain the same.
  • Counties must meet all metrics of the next, less restrictive level in order to move.
  • Disease incidence will be the leading indicator for moving a county to a more restrictive level on the dial. A county can be moved based on disease incidence levels alone. Once the metric for the new level is reached, the county will be moved swiftly into that level. A lack of sufficient testing or strain on the regional hospital system can also result in county movement, regardless of disease incidence.

Congress Introduces RESTAURANTS Act of 2021

Yesterday, the RESTAURANTS Act was reintroduced in the House and Senate. This follows months of collective pressure from our industry for restaurant-specific funding on a federal level.

The RESTAURANTS Act of 2021 is modeled after legislation the authors introduced last Congress. Their new proposal would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide relief to food service or drinking establishments that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities. Owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively to February 15, 2020, and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.

Grants could be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, building maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, supplies (including protective equipment and cleaning materials), food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers, and any other essential expenses.

The legislation also includes several new provisions to help restaurants and their employees and ensure the integrity of the program. These provisions would:

  • Update the award calculation based on annual loss from calendar year 2020 rather than quarterly.
  • Provide grant eligibility for new restaurants that opened after January 1, 2020.
  • Provide paid sick leave as an eligible expense for employees and provides a bonus amount to cover the cost of voluntarily providing 10 days of sick leave to employees.
  • Provide Treasury the discretion to help reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Impose reporting obligations on the Department of the Treasury to share who gets loans and demographic information about the recipients.
  • Ensure that restaurants can use both the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the RESTAURANTS Act grant program, so long as they are not used for the same expenses.

We will continue to provide you with updates as this bill develops.

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