Despite the program going on a brief hold, Mesa County businesses have again started to apply to be five-star businesses as part of Mesa County’s Variance Protection Program. The rating system, which is voluntary, is designed to recognize businesses that are implementing the best safety measures to protect their customers.

The program, created through a partnership between Mesa County Public Health and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, was set to launch on July 15, but after Gov. Jared Polis announced a statewide mask mandate July 16, the health department suspended the program to give businesses a chance to adjust.

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Diane Schwenke said the program is back on with several businesses already approved by Mesa County Public Health. She said a webinar on Wednesday will serve mainly as an information session for interested businesses.

About 800 businesses have filled out application forms.

“We have a lot of different businesses in Mesa County,” she said.

According to Jeff Kuhr, Mesa County Public Health executive director, about 30 businesses have been approved with five stars so far.

The rating system judges and scores businesses on their compliance with public health recommendations.

For example, one question asks if the facility space is organized by arranging equipment and furniture to not only address the 50% occupant requirement, but also to promote a distance of at least 6 feet between individuals: scored 0, for not implemented, to 5, if implemented. The evaluations are made by public health staff.

Businesses have to receive a score of greater than 45 out of 55 to receive five stars.

“We’re excited to relaunch,” Schwenke said.

She said she’s heard not only from businesses that want to sign up, but from customers and people on the street interested in the program.

“I had somebody stop me at the gym to say: what’s happening with five-star, are you going to restart it?” Schwenke said. “I think it’s important for people to know the health department doesn’t just take people’s word on this. Businesses get inspected thoroughly. “

She expected other counties across the state to look to Mesa County to see how the first-of-its-kind program is doing.

“We hope it becomes a pilot program for other businesses across Colorado,” she said.

Interested businesses first need to fill out a safety plan with Mesa County Public Health. Once completed, the business can ask to participate in the program.

Several restaurants and breweries, retail services, recreation and fitness facilities and more have been named five-star businesses already.

To see which businesses have been added to the list, visit the Mesa County Public Health website or visit the Mesa County Variance Protection Program Facebook page.

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