Hundreds of Jefferson County businesses violated health orders

Health department has opted for education instead of shut-down orders


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jefferson County Public Health has had hundreds of contacts with businesses following complaints from the public about violations of current health orders. However, the agency has not yet ordered any businesses to close as a result of non-compliance with those orders.

As of May 22, Jefferson County Public Health staff members had received and followed up with 153 complaints about businesses and individuals failing to comply with the provisions of the state's Safer-at-Home order, which took effect in Jeffco on May 9.

That is after JCPH responded to a total of 725 complaints during the period lasting from March 26 to May 9, when the statewide stay-at-home order was in effect.

Those complaints can range from complaints about too many people being gathered in a public area to non-essential businesses opening and employees at businesses not wearing masks. According to Mindi Ramig, the retail food program manager for JCPH, the county tracks all violations but does not have a formal breakdown of how many complaints have been about businesses versus individuals.However, Ramig said a review of the data for the 153 Safer-at-Home records showed that approximately only 10 relate to individual or group gatherings and the rest relate to businesses.

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According to Ramig, those notices notify businesses that they are operating in violation of the current public health order and outline both the steps the business needs to take to come into compliance and possible penalties if they do not, which can include being ordered to shut down. All of those business voluntarily came into compliance after being sent a notice of violation. The county is not releasing the names of businesses that it has received complaints about because all businesses have come into compliance.

Ramig said it is the policy of the health department for staff to follow up with all businesses about which a legitimate complaint is received. The first step in doing so is contacting the businesses by phone or email to discuss the complaint and whether or how the business is operating, depending on the nature of the complaint and what is permitted.

“We will talk to them about what order does require and what they are responsible for doing and verify they understand,” said Ramig.

Based on that phone or email contact, staff will then determine whether they need to send someone to visit the establishment to inspect whether they are now in compliance. Ramig said that while the agency is initially relying on businesses being honest, she said the agency also knows that “if a business continues to comply we will hear if that's the case and follow up from there.”

So far, the vast majority of businesses have taken steps to comply after being contacted according to Ramig, which is why there has not been a need for further enforcement reactions.

“I think that's fair to say that generally people are very responsive when we clarify the order,” Ramig said. “There have been businesses that have not been happy but at least at this point they have been respectful.”

Ramig said the county does want residents to report public health threats as “the entire point of the Safer-at-Home order is to ensure communities can reopen in a safe way to prevent a surge of cases.” However, she said residents should also evaluate whether a situation is truly a public health concern and suggested some less critical violations, such as one employee not wearing a mask while others do, can be best handled by an observer simply notifying a manager at the business.

“We don't want complaints that are unfounded or not of a nature that would be of a public health concern,” she said. “But, of course, that can be hard to determine. That is why we log all of them and follow up on all of them.”

Those looking to report a current Safer-at-Home order violation they have witnessed at a business in Jefferson County should call JCPH at 303-232-6301. Michael Taplin, the public information office for the Sheriff's Office, said JCPH handles all complaints related to businesses, although deputies may respond to current violations involving individuals.

However, Taplin said that all enforcement actions are handled by JCPH and when the Sheriff's Office makes contact related to violations, it is for the purposes of education and the Sheriff's Office has not issued any summons related to the orders. If a deputy comes upon a violation on their own, they will also "seek to engage the person or people, educate them and encourage them to follow the order."


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