Dining options on municipalities’ table

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Ridgway, Ouray consider outdoor accommodations, ordinances encouraging face masks

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Local municipalities are troubleshooting how they can safely accommodate outdoor dining and allow restaurants to have more outside capacity, in anticipation of Ouray County’s variance to allow in-person dining being approved by the state.

But at the same time, they’re also having discussions about whether to enact their own ordinances or resolutions either encouraging or requiring people to wear masks in public.

The county’s variance request for restaurants to resume in-person dining has mask-wearing at its core, and would require diners to wear masks when they’re not sitting at distanced tables. If they get up to use the restroom, the mask goes on. If they’re walking to or from their table, the mask should be on. This is the first local attempt to require masks if someone wants to be around others, in a place where others will be potentially concentrated in one area.

Some businesses - such as restaurants and personal-service businesses such as hairstylists - already have a requirement from the state for employees to wear masks in order to operate.

While businesses have the ability to require masks for patrons who want to come into their shops, in the same manner they might require someone to wear a shirt or shoes, local governments have relied on encouragement from health officials to prompt people to wear face coverings. Initially, the advice on wearing masks was mixed, and officials used Centers for Disease Control recommendations advising health professionals to wear them but not the general public. That advice later changed, and face coverings have been encouraged to prevent droplets traveling from someone’s nose or mouth from reaching others. The latest advice has focused on limiting possible contagion from those who don’t have symptoms but may have the virus and are contagious to others, and the message has been that wearing a mask protects others, not necessarily the mask-wearer.

The state started asking residents to wear masks the first week of April, with the governor calling on Coloradans to adopt a “mask-wearing culture” and to make wearing face coverings fashionable and socially accepted. Some local residents started sewing masks for others, some people started wearing bandanas, and others pulled up neck gaiters over their mouths and noses. Ridgway resident Cat Lichtenbelt announced at a meeting Wednesday morning she will be sewing masks on demand from io a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday next to the old fire house in Ridgway, in exchange for donations to the Ouray County Response Fund.

The city of Durango debated a mask requirement Tuesday night but ultimately decided to keep the mask-wearing advisory to encouragement, not an official rule, according to The Durango Herald. However, the Telluride Town Council passed an emergency ordinance this week requiring people to wear face masks when they’re in enclosed areas and cannot guarantee safe space of at least 6 feet. The ordinance also exempts children younger than 2 and anyone who has a doctor’s advice indicating a mask would be detrimental to their health. According to the ordinance, the ordinance sunsets on June 2 unless it is extended.

The Ridgway Town Council discussed ideas to expand outdoor dining for restaurants during its meeting May 13.

Trisha Oakland, program director for Weehawken Arts and the Sherbino Theater, approached the council with some initial ideas to help restaurants expand their outdoor service areas. She cited concerns about smaller establishments being able to serve enough customers, if the county’s variance allowing them to begin in-person dining is approved and it’s based on the same limits Mesa County used for its variance, which limits inside dining to 30 percent of the fire code limitations.

“It’s basically not even a reality for those businesses to operate,” she said.

Oakland said she’s been working with others on two concepts — one providing a communal dining space for multiple restaurants, like an outdoor mall food court, including part of Clinton Street in front of the Sherbino Theater. The second idea would extend each business’ individual space instead of having one big communal space.

“Realistically what we’re kind of looking for at the moment is a thumbs-up from the town to explore ... this idea,” she said. “If town is open to us putting the work into it, we’d really like to explore some more defined proposals.”

True Grit owner Tammee Tuttle encouraged the council to consider restaurants not located on Clinton Street and how to accommodate them as well. “Let us each create our own spaces,” she said. Tuttle warned that restaurants may run into liability issues with their insurance if they cannot control the spaces where their liquor is served, in a communal space.

“My idea was to kind of cordon off the corner of the park,” said Mayor John Clark.

Councilor Beth Lakin said the plan needs to include protocol for sanitation at tables between customers if it’s a communal space, and said she’s already concerned about spaces where people are eating and no one is necessarily tasked with cleaning such as tables outside Crumb.

“You’re really not supposed to be eating there, but people are eating there, so is it getting sanitized?” she said. While restaurants have their own routines for busing tables and wiping them down with sanitizer, a protocol would be needed to ensure these common areas are cleaned.

Tuttle said she agreed with Lakin, but she doesn’t love the idea of a common area because she wants to make sure she can ensure cleanliness. “If we’re worried, for lack of a better term, about passing cooties, we have to make sure that we can control how we clean that area.”

Oakland said the common area would be an option if restaurants cannot reopen, much like park benches are being used now by diners for take-out. At this time it’s unclear what the state’s new rules could look like if they are released later this month.

Clark asked if a committee could meet once a week to discuss outdoor dining options.

“Town council wants to do anything we can to help our local businesses get through this, and we’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to be innovative to do it,” he said.

Like Ridgway, Ouray is considering allowing restaurants to provide outdoor service to diners. The council is scheduled to meet in a work session at 9 a.m. today (Thursday) to discuss introducing a temporary permit process that would allow restaurants to serve food and beverages within city rights-of-way. Councilors may then consider enacting an emergency ordinance at a special meeting at io:3o a.m. allowing sales, dining and liquor on city property.

During the council’s Monday afternoon meeting, Ouray Brewery owner Erin Eddy encouraged the city to close several streets on both sides of Main Street and set up picnic tables that restaurants could use to seat customers.

“We’re all in dire need,” he said.

Ridgway councilors also discussed possible options for encouraging or requiring face coverings to be worn in public.

Some cited concerns about enforcement, including councilor Lakin, but she also spoke in favor of requiring face coverings. “I’m all for it because education only goes so far, and failed education leaves our vulnerable at she said.

Ridgway Mayor Pro Tem Eric Johnson said he was reluctant to enact a mandatory rule because of enforcement issues, but he’s hopeful individual agencies and businesses will do what they can to require masks themselves.

“You don’t wear a mask, you don't come in Town Hall,” he said. He also encouraged businesses to enforce their own rules.

Councilor Terry Schuyler said he thinks businesses should add masks to their requirements for entry to their establishments, just as they have had signs that say “no shirt, no shoes, no entry.”

“You add ‘no mask, no entry’ to that same sign, I think it sends a pretty powerful message,” he said. He also expressed concerns that “it's almost si lly not to require it” in his mind because a few people who are not wearing masks can infect others.

Councilor Tessa Cheek said she’s concerned about reopening Ouray County to visitors from other areas that may not have had the same restrictions or precautions enacted here in Colorado at home. She advocated for educating visitors to take precautions when they come to the area.

“If we have people coming in from Houston, and from Scottsdale, and from LA, and from New York, there’s going to be virus all over every surface in this town,” Cheek said.

“I do think we definitely want to be educating visitors, right? That there are zero ventilators in this county, there is no hospital in this county, so please wear a mask so that you don’t kill us all,” she said.

Johnson, who works at Telluride Medical Center, said he expects to see more cases as visitors arrive, as more testing is available, and he hopes the infection rate is low enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. He said he anticipates this will continue for as long as 24 months until a vaccine is widely available.

Ultimately, councilors agreed to pursue encouraging masks instead of pursuing a punitive stance.

“Let’s try and make sure we work the education route,” Clark said.

Councilors directed Town Administrator Preston Neill to take the “kind approach” and draft a resolution strongly advising face cover ings for consideration at a special meeting Wednesday.

Ouray city councilors are also expected to consider a resolution this morning encouraging the use of face coverings within the city.

Mayor Pro Tem John Wood said he fully supported such a resolution, saying wearing a face covering “is common decency.”

“I don’t care if you think it’s a hoax,” he said of the virus. “Something is going on.”

County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd said the county is looking at replicating the messages used on Montrose County’s banners, which say “my mask protects you, your mask protects me,” for banners that have been ordered to be placed in Ouray County.