The Crestone Eagle • June, 2020

Saguache County requests variance from State’s Safer-at-Home public health order

by Lisa Cyriacks

On May 15, 2020, the Saguache County Board of Public Health* unanimously approved an application to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) seeking a variance from the State’s “Safer-at-Home” public health order.

The variance application is for: restaurants, places of worship, recreation, motels, bed-n-breakfasts, and Airbnb’s. If CDPHE approves the variance as requested, those businesses will then be allowed to submit a request to Saguache County Public Health for limited re-opening.

The submitted variance also includes guidance for suppression that continues social distancing requirements for all residents, maintaining 6 feet physical distancing, using face masks in public places, washing hands frequenting, use of hand sanitizers, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, self-quarantining by travelers into the county, and Stay-at-Home requirements for vulnerable populations.

The variance requests can give counties some flexibility in dealing with the pandemic locally. Colorado counties also can impose more strict restrictions than those outlined in the statewide order, and at least 15 counties have done so, according to Colorado Counties Inc.

At the end of April the Governor’s Safer-at-Home Executive Order became effective. Under that order the CDPHE was authorized to provide direction on how Colorado can transition from Stay-at-Home to Safer-at-Home. The Safer-at-Home Executive Order also directs the new, complementary Public Health Order to contain a means by which a county may request a variance to Safer-at-Home orders.

Keeping COVID-19 numbers low and plans to contain any outbreaks is the key for counties seeking variances.

Certain criteria need to be met before approval by the State. The jurisdiction needs to have very low case counts and/or demonstrate proof of 14 consecutive days of decline of infection of COVID-19 in the jurisdiction. The application must include a written COVID-19 suppression plan approved by the appropriate local public health authority, all hospitals within the jurisdiction and elected leadership.

Counties receiving variance approvals will need to continue to collect and monitor data to demonstrate that the alternative restrictions are not having a negative impact on individuals or healthcare systems.

The variances granted expire when the governor’s Safer-at-Home order expires. But the governor’s order could be extended, or modified. The variances also can be extended. and McClain said the CDPHE does not expect to ask counties to reapply for variances.

If granted a variance by the State, Saguache County would join two other counties in the valley that have been approved to issue variances. Alamosa County is also awaiting approval.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Alamosa County announced they will begin a phased reopening on June 3. On May 25, the State will decide if restaurants can begin reopening and at what level. In June, the State will decide what additional things can be phased back in.


Governor Polis is emphasizing expanded availability of testing in Colorado. The State’s map for testing sites currently only shows Chaffee County Public Health and omits local providers in the SLV.

In the San Luis Valley, public health and local partners have determined that the most efficient way to do testing for the general public is through our local health care providers. Symptomatic individuals are encouraged to call one of the nurse-lines below to start the screening process.

Rio Grande Hospital 719-657-4990

SLV Health Nurse Line 719-589-2511 ext. 9

Valley Wide Health Systems 719-589-3658 ext. 9

*Saguache County Board of County Commissioners serves as the Saguache County Board of Public Health.