State denies pool variance request

  • Swimmers enjoy the Ouray Hot Springs during the first week the pool reopened, the last week of June.
    Swimmers enjoy the Ouray Hot Springs during the first week the pool reopened, the last week of June.

More than a month after Ouray County asked the state for permission to allow increased capacity at pools, the state health department has denied that request.

The answer came to Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery through a phone call on Monday. The reason given was that the application didn't align with the new "Protect Our Neighbors" phase of reopening the state, he said. 

However, the county applied for the variance during the previous reopening phase – called "Safer at Home," which followed the more-restrictive "Stay at Home" orders. The response took so long that the state moved on to the next stage of reopening, which requires individual counties to submit applications for lesser restrictions during the pandemic to allow larger gatherings and other events. The county asked for permission to allow 200 swimmers, or 75 percent capacity, at pools, including the Ouray Hot Springs and private pools including Orvis Hot Springs. The statewide rules currently allow 50 percent capacity or 50 swimmers, whichever is less.

At the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, 50 people is roughly 6 percent of capacity.

The state’s “protect our neighbors” phase, which will go in to effect on a community-by-community basis rather than a blanket statewide lifting of restrictions, would allow communities who meet a list of criteria to permit activities at 50 percent of pre-pandemic capacity and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time. Kingery previously said he’s had conversations with regional health directors about moving in that direction but acknowledged they’re nowhere near ready to submit an application. The next phase of reopening is one that requires a complicated application, with everything from proof of contact tracing capabilities to available hospital capacities.

Kingery has been visiting with other health departments in the region to discuss applying for the next phase as a region, with support from neighboring health departments who have more resources.

The state previously granted some variances for increased pool variances – including one in Douglas County that only took a week to review and receive an answer.

A Plaindealer review of variance applications filed with state health officials seeking expanded pool capacity found the state has received at least 12 such requests from counties around the state, including Ouray County. And while state health officials signed off on most of them, a few applications were approved only in part or rejected outright.

• Adams County received approval June 26 for up to 100 people in indoor pools and 175 people in outdoor pools at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center. The county had asked for up to 125 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.

• Baca County received approval June 14 for up to 50 percent capacity, or 50 people, in swimming pools.

• Chaffee County received approval May 21 for hot springs to reopen. The approval letter didn’t specify capacities.

• Delta County on June 27 was denied a request to increase capacity of outdoor swimming pools to 75 percent.

• Denver County received approval June 15 for 50 percent occupancy — up to 175 people — for indoor pools.

• Douglas County received approval June 26 for 50 percent capacity at pools, or up to 175 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.

• Garfield County received approval June 11 for up to 175 people at Glenwood Hot Springs and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The county had asked for a larger 30 percent capacity at those pools, which the state rejected.