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Restaurant owners, their employees, customers and political allies are pleading for help. A few are openly defying state shutdown orders for the sake of survival. They need Gov. Jared Polis to ease restrictions on indoor dining.

Restaurant owners who can afford the investment are trying to circumvent dining restrictions by installing outdoor tents with at least two sides open or a variety of unique outdoor pods and other contraptions that facilitate dining outside — sort of.

The latest plea for relief came Sunday when Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Visit COS and other leaders in the state’s second-largest city fired off a letter to Polis. The community leaders want the governor to allow dining with fewer restrictions than those defined in the state’s new 5-star program.

The letter recommends the state immediately allow 25% capacity of indoor dining, with a maximum of two households per table. It recommends an increase to 50% if numbers continue to decline for two weeks.

In a recent video meeting with Polis and state health director Dr. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, The Gazette’s editorial board asked about state data that indicate indoor dining is safe. As reported in our Dec. 2 editorial, data from the department headed by Dr. Ryan indicate only 51 of nearly 36,000 Colorado COVID cases were contracted in restaurants as of Nov. 25.

We wanted to know why 51 of 36,000 cases could possibly justify the veritable shutdown of a major industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people with financial obligations.

“Our outbreak data doesn’t do a great job defining where people were infected by the virus,” Dr. Ryan said, calling into question her agency’s numbers.

That is disconcerting, at best, in a culture that says to follow the science. Doing so requires credible numbers from government health agencies. If the state cannot trace transmissions to restaurants, one wonders how it can trace them to most other locations. Restaurants, after all, have been required for months to record names and phone numbers of customers for the sake of tracing transmissions.

Meanwhile, people line up inches or feet apart at checkout stands in convenience stores, supermarkets, big-box outlets, pot shops, liquor stores and other businesses declared “critical” or “essential.” No one records their names and phone numbers.

People do not starve for a lack of restaurant access, but these businesses are no less essential than any other. Just talk to a single parent heading into the holidays with children to feed, bills to pay, gifts to buy and no income from wages or tips.

“Inside we’re dying,” said Denver restaurateur Dana Rodriguez, a Mexican immigrant who took a job washing dishes upon entering this country in the 1990s. From dishwashing, she advanced to own and manage the popular foodie restaurants Work & Class and Super Mega Bien.

The stress and anxiety of COVID regulations put Rodriguez — a woman known for her seeming invincibility and an unstoppable will to succeed — into the hospital for three days. A doctor referred her for in-patient care when she could not overcome stress-induced dizziness and nausea.

“You create a family in your businesses,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Denver’s CBS channel 4. “You create a connection with the community. … If I don’t get a paycheck, I want to make sure my dishwasher gets a paycheck. They have family, they have kids, they have people they can feed and all of that stuff.”

The hospital stay put Rodriguez in far greater danger than her restaurants pose to anyone. State data show hospitals are the most dangerous environments for COVID transmission among consumers. In the same time span the state heath department traced 51 cases to restaurants, it found 6,659 cases of patients contracting COVID at health care facilities. If these numbers are genuinely unreliable, the state should not report them.

Restaurants are essential to the livelihoods of nearly 300,000 Coloradans who count on them for income. Most of these businesses may not survive the winter without revenue from indoor dining.

Gov. Polis should allow city and county officials more latitude in regulating dining. There is more to survival than dodging COVID-19. Thousands of restaurant workers will attest to this fact. They are suffering — mentally, physically and economically — and cannot take much more.

This content was originally published here.