“It’s a risk” Teller County Commissioner says of variance request to open gyms, restaurants, bars, casinos, churches


TELLER COUNTY, Colo. –– 95 percent of about 1,500 people working in casinos in Cripple Creek have been laid off or furloughed, according to the city.

It’s that kind of economic damage that led to Teller County Commissioners requesting a wide-ranging variance to allow gyms, restaurants, bars, casinos, places of worship and movie theaters to reopen.

“It’s a worry but it’s a risk we thought was much more beneficial to get the economic system working again because those costs are significant,” said Commissioner Bob Campbell, one of Teller County’s three commissioners.

In a letter in the variance, the Teller County Department of Human Services says in March, they received 200 applications for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid and Long Term Care Assistance. That’s more requests than the department typically receives over a four month period.

Requesting casinos to shut down machines to allow for space between patrons, the restrictions the county lays out as part of the variance request is nearly identical between industries.

Those include six feet of distance in between customers, signs in front of businesses laying out that particular establishments rules, masks for employees who contact customers, touchless payment recommended, and physical barriers between customers. The request also says “limit the number of customers to adhere to social distancing guidelines” but doesn’t provide any specific capacity limit.

Campbell admits they are more vague than other county’s request but it’s on purpose.

“[That is] solely based on the responsibilities of the operators of those businesses and solely based on citizen’s responsibility,” Campbell said. “We have very good confidence in our residents of the community that they will take that responsibility seriously.”

Campbell and other county leaders worry about the mental state of the resident.

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell said in a letter included in the variance his office is reporting a 40 percent increase in assaults.

In District Attorney Dan May’s letter, he says 63 more cases of felony domestic violence from March 1-May 6 when compared to the same time last year. That data is for the Fourth Judicial District that also includes El Paso County.

The Teller County Department of Public Health and the area’s hospitals approve of the plan. UC Health says that ICU beds used by Teller County Patients are located in it’s El Paso County hospitals.

As of Friday, there were 31 cases of COVID––19 since March 16. Three people are currently sick with the virus and two people have died.

In a county of around 25,000 people over several hundred square miles, Campbell sees a different lifestyle.

“I think that leads to why some of our case counts are close because we’re not a compact community,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going for us that maybe most small counties don’t have.”

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