MAYOR MIKE COFFMAN: Local government can best handle pandemic exceptions for businesses

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On a recent conference call with Gov. Jared Polis, the governor said he was very encouraged by how the numbers of COVID cases were trending down across the entire state of Colorado.  He had accomplished, so far, the primary goal of “bending the curve,” meaning that our hospitals were able to care for the expected increase in the critical COVID-19 patients without overwhelming our health care system, professionals and critical equipment.

The ability to slow the spread was due to the dramatic step to implement Stay at Home orders.

Coloradans showed great care, concern and compassion in listening to the governor and public health officials, making sure this upheaval to our everyday lives resulted in an effective path forward.

As we all continue to do our part with social distancing, hand washing and face coverings, we are beginning to take measured steps to reopen business.  I appreciate Gov. Polis’ leadership and regional approach, and his willingness to truly consider different points of view and seek input on the difficult decisions we are all making during this pandemic.

One topic I have discussed with the governor that has had a major impact on Aurora is who decides which businesses resume, when and under what circumstances. I have advocated for, and Gov. Polis is contemplating, a more streamlined process for businesses to reopen under the auspice of the local health authority.

It’s one thing to temporarily shut down entire classes of businesses in order to stem a pandemic, and that should come only from the governor. When it comes to reopening individual businesses — especially those that have come up with creative, reasonable ways to safely reopen — the approval process needs to take place at the local county health department level. Not only will that help the state with the magnitude of waiver and variance requests, it allows the local health experts to have a dialogue with local businesses to arrive at a plan that protects the public health, and lets the business safely reopen to serve the community and support the economy.

The current process requires variances and waivers to be submitted to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment accompanied by a suppression plan approved by a host of reviewers including hospitals within the county, the majority of county commissioners and the local health department. Ultimately, the state health department makes the final decision on the request.  This is a long and sometimes slow process for a business to endure, particularly during a time of financial hardship.

Health agencies at the local level often deal with area businesses, know the proprietors and understand how the business operates, so it makes sense to give them the ability to assess the plans and grant the variances and waivers.

Mike Coffman is mayor of Aurora. Reach him at [email protected].