Teller County can reopen casinos, bars and places of worship, among other venues, as well as host public gatherings, under a state variance received Sunday.

The waiver also allows for the reopening of gyms and movie theaters.

Reopening casinos covers only the operation of slot machines; the reopening of game tables will be considered in three weeks, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, director of the state health department, said in a letter to the Teller County Board of County Commissioners.

The approval also  allows for indoor restaurant dining and place-of-worship capacity of a maximum of 175 individuals, up from the 50 maximum allowed indoors under statewide guidance.

Under the variance, outdoor events of more than 10 people must be approved by the Teller County Board of Health. Festivals, fairs and concerts are still prohibited because of the high risk of exposure, the letter states.

"This is great news. It will help our local economy and get people back to work," Teller County Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder said in an emailed statement.

Eric Rose and Matt Andrighetti, general managers of Century Casino and Wildwood Casino, respectively, said they planned to open their casinos within a few days, pending regulatory approval from the Colorado Division of Gaming, which decided on an opening date of all Cripple Creek casinos on June 15 at 10 a.m.

Both casinos plan on recalling most furloughed employees, although those working at table games such as blackjack, poker, roulette and craps won't be recalled until casinos are allowed to again offer those games.

"We're excited. We have been working very hard cleaning, building and preparing to reopen. It is nice to have a light at the end of the tunnel," Andrighetti said. "Our sportsbook is under construction and our online sports wagering platform is in testing, so we expect both to be available when major sports resume play ."

"It has been crazy. We have been waiting for this," Rose said. "There are strict restrictions in the variance to keep everyone safe and healthy, as it should be. Many of the casinos across the nation have reopened without incident, and I expect we will be able to as well."

Restrictions include the maintenance of a 6-foot social-distancing space between individuals; a limit of 50% of the posted occupancy code with a maximum of 175 people inside and 250 outside; and the disinfecting of theaters between movie showings. Employees must wear face masks.

The variance allows for optional temperature-monitoring of employees at the venues allowed to reopen, but did not make it mandatory. A fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Teller County has had 33 reported cases of coronavirus, with one case in the past two weeks. If it exceeds seven cases in two weeks, the state will need to be notified and a mitigation plan implemented in an attempt to bring virus transmission levels below the threshold at which the variance was approved, according to the letter.

The variance can be rescinded at any time, the letter adds.

Churches, gyms, pools and outdoor recreation activities have been given greater leeway to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, but, in Colorado Springs, there's been no rush to take advantage of the relaxed restrictions. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released guidelines Thursday allowing for the resumption of activities of groups of up to 10 people, socially distanced and wearing masks when possible. The guidelines applied to activities at parks, pools, gyms, churches, rafting and fishing.

Among the larger fitness centers in Colorado Springs, Villa Sports has reopened while VASA Fitness and Life Time Fitness posted that they planned to open next week.

El Paso County's houses of worship were granted more freedom by the state health department than churches across Colorado following the approval on Friday of a variance submitted by El Paso County. 

Greater freedom for faith groups to meet has been a priority locally, and El Paso County submitted a variance to the state that would have allowed churches to open at 25% occupancy. Instead the state allowed El Paso County houses of worship to host meetings at 50% of their buildings' occupancy not to exceed more than 100 people. Faith groups may also host 175 people outdoors, the approved variance stated.  

The variance allows more attendees than the regulations statewide, which limit houses of worship to 50% occupancy or up to 50 people. 

But the state's cap on the number of people who can attend a service does not work well for all groups, said Stu Davis, executive director of COS I Love You, an association of churches in Colorado Springs. For example, some churches have large buildings that can seat thousands of people, he said. 

"We need to have them reconsider the idea of a hard number," he said.

Gazette reporters Liz Henderson, Mary Shinn and Leslie James contributed to this report.

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