The Boulder County Five Star Certification program has seen a slow stream of applications coming in its first few weeks after its launch date, which coincided with the move to the yellow level on the state COVID-19 dial. The move to yellow from more-restrictive orange status allows businesses to operate at the highest capacity since the beginning of the pandemic.
Five Star Certification allows businesses to operate a level below the county’s status on the COVID dial, with the potential for loosened capacity restrictions. However, businesses can’t move to the higher capacities of the next level down — blue — until 70% of 70-year-olds in Colorado are vaccinated, which is expected by the end of the month, according to Jessica Erickson, president and CEO of the Longmont Economic Development Partnership.
Ricardo Cabrera, operations manager at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County, said the committee leading the program expects to see a steady stream of applicants over the next month or two as more business owners understand the value of certification.
“A perception we hear people having right now is that to have this certification is a badge of honor,” he said, adding that when given the option, customers are likely to choose a business that has taken the extra steps to be certified. “The incentive (businesses) have if they are certified is they get a sticker that is prominent in the business, and people know you are going the extra mile to make sure that safety is important.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created the COVID-19 5 Star State Certification program on Dec. 14. It allows counties to develop local certification programs in which businesses implement safety measures beyond those required by public health orders. The county program was created through a partnership between the Longmont Economic Development Partnership and Boulder Chamber.The Longmont Climbing Collective, a local fitness space that offers bouldering walls and training, yoga, youth programming and other classes, was one of the first Longmont businesses to be certified, according to founder and CEO Bryan Hylenski.
The pandemic has impacted the gym’s operations more than others because of the size of the space, Hylenski said, adding that capacity restrictions are very different for a 15,000-square-foot space versus those a fraction of its size.
“The next door gym is half the size and has a capacity for 100 people while we can have 400. At the orange level (on the state COVID-19 dial) 25 people is 50% capacity for them while it is only 20% for us,” he said referencing the caps imposed by the dial, which in the case of the orange status is 50 people for gyms regardless of what percentage of capacity that is.
“This is not solving the problem but it’s definitely helping,” he said of Five Star Certification.
The main motivation for getting certified was to mitigate the impact of capacity restrictions caused by Boulder County moving up and down the COVID-19 dial, as well as to inspire confidence in current and potential members to visit the gym, Hylenski said.
A large percentage of the 750 members of the collective have kept their membership over the past year without going to the gym, he said. However, the business has seen an uptick in attendance since it made the certification announcement last week.
“Since we made the announcement, we had 30 people come back,” he said. “As soon as we put (the announcement) up on social media, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic we had this place barely busy. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday 60 got day passes, which is not a lot but for us it felt like a lot. … If we can promote this, that builds confidence not only for our members but also for others looking for something to do with their kids, they know they can trust us.”The certification process was straightforward and the partners charged with the creation of the program have done an effective job, Hylenski said.
“(Throughout the pandemic) I’ve dealt with the state, the state’s attorney office, the county, the city of Longmont, and hands down Boulder County and the committee that put this together... were working 24 hours a day to get this up and running,” he said.
Emily Bauer, owner of Blue Skies Massage and Wellness, a local massage therapy business, said the service-based industry also has been hit hard by the pandemic and personal service businesses have struggled to stay afloat amidst capacity restrictions.
“We have gone above and beyond what is required and been meticulous about keeping everyone safe. The Five Star Certification would allow us to maintain the highest level of safety under a microscope while allowing us to operate at a broader level with a few more clients,” she said. “This would take a little edge off the difficulties under which personal service businesses are currently operating.”
Restaurants, personal care businesses and gyms are the primary targets for this certification, but not all businesses within those categories benefit the same, Cabrera said.
Space and architectural limitations make loosening capacity restrictions more difficult for smaller spaces that cannot bring in more people and maintain 6 feet of distance between them, he said.
“The certification still looks good on them, but it wouldn't help to get in more customers. It’s a personal decision,” he said.
As of Wednesday, 26 businesses had been certified in Boulder County and certification is underway for the remainder of the 75 that applied. At least three of the certified businesses are in Longmont with several others awaiting inspections or working to complete their applications, according to Corine Waldau, senior director of economic vitality at the Boulder Chamber.
“(We are) unsure of exact numbers in Longmont, since we don’t know the final numbers,” she said. “Of the initial interest forms, approximately 30% of the interest came from Longmont businesses.”
Based on data from the initial round of applications submitted on the day the program was launched, 25% of businesses seeking certification are women-owned, 7% are veteran-owned and 4% are minority owned, she said.
The program was designed to provide all eligible businesses the same access and opportunity to be certified through the support of an equity task force, Cabrera said.
The equity task force helps ensure language, location, finances, technology and cultural dimensions are taken into account and difficulties within those categories can be addressed so all interested business owners can get certified, he said.
“Getting certified lets clients know you are being safe,” he said. “It’s a sign of goodwill saying ‘I am safe and I am concerned about your safety, and I want you in my business.’”
Information on how to apply for Five Star Certification is available in English and Spanish on Boulder County’s Five Star Certification Program website: http://bit.ly/BOCO5STAR. The site also provides instructional videos, sample inspection checklists, and resources for businesses interested in applying.
A fund has been created to help businesses pay the $100 program application fee or to pay the costs of any public health measures required to receive certification. A business needing financial support to pursue certification is encouraged to submit an application and will be provided a link to apply for funding once an application is submitted. Learn more about the fund or make a donation, here.