Oct 2, 2020 | By April Kwan | Photo by John Le

With winter coming, and the COVID-19 pandemic going on six months, it’s time to plan for what the new normal looks like as the seasons change.

For local communities, businesses who have begun to establish outdoor settings during the mild spring and summer weather will need to find a safe and innovative way to provide customers with a similar experience as temperatures cool.

Businesses face the challenges of needing to go indoors to accommodate for Colorado’s cold and snowy winters during the pandemic. Moving business indoors presents safety concerns, because the droplets and aerosols that transmit COVID-19 spread more easily inside.

Recognizing this, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released guidelines for “temporary outdoor structures for restaurants and events” to provide detailed instruction for restaurants to safely adapt to continue hosting customers in the colder climate.             

The first aspect to this new regulation defines what an indoor versus outdoor space is. Spaces that include four walls with a ceiling, three closed walls and one opened, and two adjacent walls open with the other two closed are all considered indoor spaces. This is because those spaces confine air flow, which is an important aspect to note when assessing the spread of COVID-19.

Spaces that allow for more air flow, such as areas that lack walls, individual structures that can make pods, and other spaces that allow for increased air flow, are considered outdoor spaces. The open ventilation of outdoors spaces allows for the air to disperse at quicker rates, which helps stop the spread of COVID-19. The CDPHE also explained that walls are any materials that can restrict aerosols from passing through. This includes materials like plastic, tarp, and sheet curtains.

Regardless of whether dining is located in an indoor or outdoor space, maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people is still required. 

These social distancing regulations also impact how populated indoor and outdoor spaces are allowed to be. The CDPHE outlines that the capacity of restaurant facilities is determined under different stages of reopening depending on specific regions in Colorado. Denser regions, typically associated with higher COVID-19 cases, can have varying rules than more sparse regions.

All of the levels of reopening in Colorado (beside the Stay-at-Home order), specify that the outdoor capacity is reliant on how much space restaurants have to maintain 6 feet between groups of customers. The levels of reopening for areas experiencing different levels of spread list the following:

“Protect Our Neighbors”: At this most relaxed level, the indoor capacity is 50%, or 500 people.

“Safer at Home Level 1”: For areas in the “cautious” realm, the indoor capacity is 50%, or 175 people.

“Safer at Home Level 2”: For areas in the “concern” realm, the indoor capacity is 50%, or 100 people.

“Safer at Home Level 3”: For areas in the “high risk” realm, the indoor capacity is 25%, or 50 people.

During the Stay-at-Home level of reopening, the indoor and outdoor capacity only allows for restaurants to provide take-out or delivery services. This does not give customers the option to dine in.

Despite the majority of these reopening stages providing both indoor and outdoor social distancing options, the CDPHE emphasizes the ability to social distance better outdoors, along with having more ventilation to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With this information in mind, it’s up to us to recognize the dangers in increasing the use of indoor facilities, and to act accordingly. Keep wearing protective masks, social distancing, and limiting contacts.

These changes also add to the uncertainty around the evolving pandemic. How will we see other industries adapt as the seasons change? How will this impact our experience? What does the future hold? And, a question we should constantly keep in mind: what can we do to help?

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