El Paso County seeks wide-ranging variance, prepares for graduations

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COLORADO SPRINGS – El Paso County Commissioners said they want their county, one of the largest in Colorado, to lead the state in reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, they approved a variance to reopen businesses in nine different sectors.

Indoor malls, theaters (both for live performances and movies), indoor and outdoor activities, libraries, small special events, and attractions such as Santa’s Workshop, Cave of the Winds, and the Indoor Water Park at the Great Wolf Lodge, were all on the request list commissioners sent Governor Jared Polis’ office on Tuesday morning.

They’re also hoping to expand in-person capacities at gyms and similar facilities for Olympians, who train for competition in Colorado Springs.

Commissioners made this variance request in light of improving data surrounding the spread of COVID-19 in this area. It’s a drastic change from the early days of the pandemic, when according to Deputy Medical Director Dr. Leon Kelly, El Paso County quickly rose to one of the 10 most affected counties in the state.

So far in June, though, there have been no more than 26 cases reported in a single day, no more than two new hospital patients in a single day, and two deaths.

As far as reopening area businesses, Dr. Kelly says it’s time.

“We’ve more than earned that right, based on how we’ve performed as a community, to get the rest of our businesses in our community open,” He said. “We’ve taken a lot of great steps along the way. It’s been frustrating for all of us.”

Places like bars, brewpubs, arcades, amusement parks, rodeos, fairs, festivals, and parades are not part of the request.

Kelly spoke on the state’s decision Saturday to let counties dictate how to handle events such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. He said the move marks one of the first times the state has deferred to local health departments to create regulations.

For El Paso County graduations, Kelly says the number of family members allowed to attend in-person, will depend on class size and the size of the venue, in order to guarantee six feet of separation between families.

The health department is working with nine area schools, that have not already held graduation ceremonies, on plans to allow family members to safely attend.

Each of those graduations are scheduled to take place Thursday through Saturday.

“I have absolute confidence that we are going to be able to do that with our schools, based largely on the working relationship that we have thus developed so far, building up to this moment,” Kelly said. “It won’t be easy in the next three days to get it done, but we’re going to do it.”

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