September 23, 2020

Site-Specific Variances FAQs and Resources

Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) launched a new dial to help guide counties and local governments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This dial adds simplicity, transparency, and predictability regarding how counties can expand capacities—or reduce them—based on virus transmission levels. The goal is to use standardized metrics at the county level, striking a balance between economic health while assuring we do not surpass public health or health care capacities.

One of the unique components of this new dial is the potential for site-specific variances. El Paso County Public Health is working on creating a streamlined process for the submission, review and approval of these requests at the local level, which will require approval from El Paso County Public Health, El Paso County Board of Commissioners and local hospitals. The final version will then be sent to CDPHE for approval at the state level. We plan to share more information on this soon, and in the interim encourage you to submit any questions to For your convenience, we have also provided some additional information outlining the process below.

What is a site-specific variance?

These variances allow indoor and outdoor venues greater than 30,000 square feet in size to request increases in capacity from the current 175-person (for indoor venues) or 250-person (for outdoor venues) limits.

Who can apply for a site-specific variance?

  • A county can apply with the state for up to 10 variances per 100,000 people for indoor and outdoor venues after first getting approval from the local public health agency.
  • The variances apply to venues that are 30,000 square feet or larger. Other venues must operate within existing capacity limits.
  • Counties that are in Level 1 on the dial may apply for outdoor and indoor site-specific variances.
  • Counties that are in Level 2 on the dial may only apply for outdoor site-specific variances.

Given our county’s size and current placement at Level 1 on the dial, that would give El Paso County the potential for as many as 70 individual venues to apply for site-specific variances for both indoor and outdoor sites.

What are the limitations on site-specific variances?

CDPHE will not grant any variances that:

  • Seek a higher capacity than 50 percent.
  • Seek to be removed from the requirements of the state’s order generally.
  • Reduce or eliminate protections for people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as defined in state’s orders. These groups are specifically protected by the state’s orders.
  • Seek variances for Public Health Order 20-29: Voluntary and Elective Surgeries and Procedures or PHO 20-20: Restricting Visitors at all Colorado Skilled Nursing Facilities, Assisted Living Residence, and Intermediate Care Facilities.
  • Seek variances from the mask order. 

How does a county apply for a site-specific variance?

Counties that have reviewed and support a request for a site specific variance may have their local public health agency submit a complete variance form to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. When completing the application, make sure to:

  • Clearly indicate which site and capacity limitation the county is requesting a variance from.
  • Describe preventive measures the county will require to meet the state’s orders.
  • Use the social distancing space calculator to determine capacity.
  • Use the outdoor and indoor event guidance to create designated spaces within the site. 

What would cause a venue to lose its variance?

Two COVID-19 cases linked to a site automatically require a mitigation plan. The variance may be suspended at any time by CDPHE, if deemed necessary, to mitigate disease spread. 

Checklist for variance applications

  • Square footage of venue
  • Map of venue WITH occupied floor space (such as furniture, equipment, and displays)
  • Capacity request both percent and total number of people
  • Ventilation plan if indoors
  • Sanitation schedule and consideration
    • Handwashing stations and hand sanitizer
    • Restrooms
  • Mask wearing for all participants
  • Health exclusion considerations for staff AND participants
  • Social distancing considerations
    • Designated areas
    • Ensure six feet of social distancing at all times
    • Signage
    • Traffic flow map
  • Risk assessment analysis
  • Parking and transportation