Colorado officials shutdown businesses in defiance of public health orders in Weld County

When the Weld County commissioners late this past month issued a statement declaring their intent not to enforce the state’s public health orders in accordance with the county’s Level Red designation, state officials warned they could issue cease and desist orders and temporarily suspend business licenses.

A number of Weld restaurants ignored the threats and announced their intentions to remain open for indoor dining, including The Country Inn in Greeley and Parrott’s Sports Grille in Firestone. At least one restaurant, Bulldog Pub and Grub in Greeley, has had its liquor license suspended due to violating COVID-19 restrictions, according to posts on Bulldog’s Facebook page.

Brandon Bird, owner of Bulldog, took to GoFundMe to create a legal defense and employee fund. On the fundraiser, he says state officials came in Thanksgiving eve and suspended the restaurant’s license. In a Facebook post, Bird added the state cited about 15 people dining in on Nov. 23 and about 30 people dining in on Nov. 24 as its reasons for suspending the license.

“With encouragement from the community, our local health department, our local law enforcement, and our local county we have continued to operate our business in a safe manner the last three days,” Bird wrote. “The state overstepped and moved to immediately suspend our license with no due process based on no liquor code violations.”

According to an email from the state on Nov. 25, Liquor Enforcement Division investigators conducted 78 checks on Nov. 23, finding 12 licensees were not complying with public health orders. Once educated, 10 licensees immediately came into compliance. Two refused and said they would remain open, according to the state, but one called back the following day and said they would comply after all.

Parrott’s initially withdrew its intention to defy the state’s order before announcing Saturday they would reopen to dine-in. The restaurant then created a support fund on GoFundMe, which had 11 donors as of Tuesday afternoon.

On Nov. 24, investigators conducted 17 more checks in Weld, including 10 re-checks of establishments that had been visited the day before. Six were not complying with public health orders. Once educated, three immediately complied, two called back and said they would comply and one licensee continued to refuse to comply with public health orders and was being moved into summary suspension.

Bird expressed in posts frustrations about stores such as Walmart and Target remaining open while dining in is closed under the state’s health orders. An unnamed person from the state’s Joint Information Center said the state’s guidelines are based on how the virus spreads.

“Dining indoors is considered a higher risk activity because people dining indoors at a restaurant typically do not wear masks because they are eating and drinking, they have contact with restaurant staff, and there are numerous high touch surfaces,” the person wrote. “In addition, restaurant patrons tend to stay at the restaurant for an extended period of time.”

Most grocery and retail store customers, however, are not at stores for extended periods of time and are required to wear masks throughout shopping. It’s also easier to keep distance from others while at a store than while seated at a restaurant, the Joint Information Center staffer wrote. Investigations in recent months have shown people are visiting with people from other households at restaurants, furthering viral spread, according to the Joint Information Center.

Bird’s GoFundMe has raised a little more than $8,000 with nearly 130 donors as of Tuesday afternoon. Bird said they intend to use the funds to regain the business’s license and maintain staff as they fight a legal battle.

“We will march on because, frankly, there is still a lot of good in this country, and a lot of good people to feel that it’s worth saving,” Bird said in a video.

An unnamed person at the state’s Joint Information Center said state agencies continually communicate with state-regulated entities to promote and ensure compliance. Licensees are directly contacted if state agencies receive complaints about potential executive order or health order violations, and licensees are informed action may be taken to protect the public, according to the Joint Information Center.

Weld County Commissioners Scott James on Tuesday morning said in a live Facebook update that the county’s hospitals and health care workers are “taxed.”

“There’s no doubt that they’re taxed, so the best that we can do is continue to follow those basic tenets that we know combat this thing, as far as limiting your social contact, as far as social distancing, as far as facial coverings if that’s what you choose is right,” James said.

James said he personally supports mask use, but also said there’s data on “both sides” of mask-wearing. One hundred of the top health care systems in the U.S. have come out in support of mask wearing as a means to slow the spread of the virus, including UCHealth, Banner Health and Kaiser Permanente.

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