By Lucas Vader
Kicking off the Dec. 10 regular town meeting, Cedaredge Town Administrator Greg Brinck brought up Mesa County’s recently pioneered “5-star” variance protection program, or exemption program for the board to consider it for Cedaredge.
“This program would really allow us to really award maybe some of our restaurants that are working hard to follow health guidelines and that are showing that they are following health guidelines with being able to have a little bit more leniency,” Brinck explained.
Essentially, participants in this program can protect their variance in the case of worsening COVID-19 conditions if they have earned the trust of the Delta County Health Department (DCHD) by clearly abiding by safety regulations.
As Greg Rajnowski of DCHD previously told the Cedaredge trustees, he and the rest of the department were beginning to look at incentives for businesses which followed safety guidelines, as there really was no feasible way to punish the businesses that didn’t.
While the program would take place at the county level, each town board would have the job of supporting the program for the sake of businesses in each town.
Essentially, as Delta County is in level orange right now, the 5-star Exemption Program would give approved businesses some flexibility in those numbers, continuing if the status continues to level red. As long as safety guidelines are followed, restaurants and bars could still potentially have indoor dining as per the health department’s discretion.
“This is something that a lot of counties across the state are looking at and are wanting to help out on the western slope,” Brinck said.
The board of trustees agreed to support the program with no reservations after Brinck explained it. It authorized town staff to continue looking at this option and setting it up.
The state of Colorado, which had already approved the program as Mesa County presented it, has since agreed to allow other counties to take part, setting the process in motion and leaving it up to the county to join, contingent upon its towns’ approval.
Every Cedaredge trustee vocalized approval of the program overall. When Trustee Heidi Weissner later recommended a motion for the board of trustees to wear masks at any in-person town meetings, however, Trustee Cathy Brown argued the point of masks while opposing Weissner’s recommendation.
“I like the idea of doing the five star thing to help our businesses out, but we’re going to require in doing so, we’ll be requiring businesses to adhere to certain restrictions,” Weissner said. “I feel as a board, if we meet in person, we should represent that the same way.”
Brown stated she has a health issue that prevents her from wearing the mask and that “it’s not a law, it’s a mandate.”
“We’ve been wearing a mask for the past year and it hasn’t changed anything,” Brown said. “The science is not out on the mask thing.” Mayor Ray Hanson said that was besides the point.
Weissner ultimately worded her suggestion as an official motion to add a code of conduct requirement for everyone at any in-person meetings during level yellow or above on the dial to wear a mask. She suggested that Brown attend the meetings virtual for that time so as to represent the town and its businesses properly, especially for the sake of the Variance Protection Program.
The motion was made by Weissner and seconded by Trustee Patti Michael, who added the importance of attending virtually if one either could not or would not wear a mask.
Brown continued to argue the motion as it was being made, stating “I haven’t been wearing a mask for the last six months, so what’s the difference now?”
“It’s not a law, it’s a mandate,” Brown said. “It’s against my constitution, my first amendment.”
The motion to add code of conduct requiring masks was approved into effect among the entire board with the exception of Brown.
At the moment, all regular board of trustee meetings are being held virtually over Zoom, but the new code of conduct is in effect should the board meet in person while Delta County is on level yellow, orange, red or purple.