Finally able to eat out again, Gillette residents kept local restaurants and bars busy on their first weekend serving customers on-site in nearly two months.

Just hours after the state health official approved Campbell County’s variance to public health orders that kept bars and restaurants closed because of COVID-19, couples and families were sitting in the dining rooms at The Prime Rib Restaurant — although tables were placed farther apart to observe some ongoing restrictions.

On Mother’s Day, the Gillette Perkins restaurant was packed to the point of having people waiting for tables in their cars.

But even with public health directives that limit the number of people in a party and the number of customers that can be served at a time, it was clear diners and restaurant employees were happy to be back.

“It feels really good to open for Mother’s Day and get moms in here and serve everyone,” said Kris Drevlow, floor manager at The Prime Rib shortly after opening Sunday. “Everyone wants to get out and enjoy it safely.

“We’re keeping everything to the book. We have a big restaurant, so we are able to eliminate a lot of tables. We’re just excited to get mothers in here. It feels really good.”

For Katie Gettert, the variance meant she could enjoy a nice Mother’s Day meal out with husband Mike.

The pandemic has been difficult not being able to travel to see her grandchildren, she said.

“It’s so nice to be able to come out and eat at a restaurant,” she said. “We were kind of getting tired of each other’s cooking.”

Misty Austin said the virus and being able to eat out Sunday makes this year “a Mother’s Day I’ll never forget.”

“We’re so excited,” she said about sharing a meal with her husband and daughter, Brandon and Brooke. “I’m really grateful to have Mother’s Day out after being cooped up so long.”

At Perkins, Jason Homrighausen waited patiently to pick up a packaged meal to take to his mother’s home. He was visiting from Denver to see her.

With many restaurants and businesses still closed in the Denver area, he said “it’s pretty great” that things are opening up here. “In Denver, they still have us on lockdown,” he said.

For some, getting back to their favorite place is a welcome return to a sense of normality, said Jack Matheny, who was having breakfast at Perkins with Karol Tinken on Monday morning.

“People seem happier and it feels good,” he said, adding it makes people feel that the pandemic is “about over.”

Health rules still in place

The county’s health variance includes restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and other places of public accommodation to offer food, beverages or alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption.

There also are a number of restrictions under which restaurants and bars must follow to operate. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Patrons must be seated at tables (including booths).
  • Tables shall be limited to groups of six, preferably the same household.
  • Tables with guests must be positioned so that guests at different tables are at least 6 feet apart from each other when seated.
  • Businesses shall ensure physical distancing guidelines are maintained.
  • Staff must wear face coverings at all times and wash hands between interactions with each table.
  • Tables must not be set prior to customer arrival.
  • Dedicated staff shall sanitize the area occupied by customers upon departure, including tables, menus, pens, salt and pepper shakers, etc.
  • Businesses may not operate if personal protective equipment, EPA-approved disinfectants and sanitizers, soap and other necessary cleaning supplies are not available.
  • Hand sanitizer must be available immediately adjacent to bathrooms.
  • No self-serve food service or buffet options may be available.
  • Employees must be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to each shift.

There are a number of additional restrictions included in the variance, and business owners are encouraged to carefully read the variance and restrictions and direct any questions to Campbell County Public Health. Failure to follow the outlined restrictions would violate the first statewide order.

Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon said he’s glad local restaurants and bars are back open.

“We’re glad to see it. I want to thank everybody that was involved in putting the variance together,” Reardon said.

He asks that people continue social distancing as they go out to enjoy a meal and that “hopefully we can get through this without any more cases.”

Worship services

The state also approved a variance that relaxes the second statewide order forbidding gatherings of 10 or more people to accommodate houses of worship and funeral homes.

Links to both of these variances are available at ccgov.net/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1281.

The approval comes on the heels of lab results of 71 people who were contacts of Campbell County’s 16th case of coronavirus. All 71 tests were negative and all will continue to be monitored for the development of symptoms for the standard 14-day quarantine period.

“The last two cases (cases 15 and 16) exposed more than 100 people, many of whom were in the high-risk population,” said County Health Officer Dr. Kirtikumar Patel. “Everyone who followed prevention guidelines (use of face masks, washing hands, frequently sanitizing common areas) made a difference in containing the spread of the virus. We should be aware and thankful these practices protected many high-risk people and the community as a whole.”

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