The Castle Rock Town Council has approved a resolution rebuking the state moving Douglas County to level red pandemic restrictions and closing indoor dining, also stating it would refuse to participate in enforcing the health order.
The resolution is largely symbolic in nature. The town has not been involved in enforcing the state's health order on COVID-19 and does not have the jurisdiction to do so, Town Manager David Corliss said.
But Councilmember George Teal said the resolution will send a message to Gov. Jared Polis “that he works for us,” the general public.
Councilmembers called the emergency meeting on Nov. 24 after the state's new level red restrictions closed local restaurants to indoor dining at 5 p.m. Nov. 20. The health order has been met with fierce criticism from local restaurant owners, including some who chose to defy the new rules.
The Tri-County Health Department ordered five restaurants in Douglas County, including three in Castle Rock, to immediately cease operations, saying the establishments continued seating guests for indoor service after the Nov. 20 deadline.
Mayor Jason Gray, who is a coffee shop owner, warned local eateries that the town cannot protect them if they choose to defy health orders.
During their emergency meeting, councilmembers questioned Mara Brosy-Wiwchar, chief of staff for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's executive director.
Councilmembers Kevin Bracken and Teal at times chastised her for what they called a lack of objective reasoning behind banning indoor dining.
Brosy-Wiwchar stressed that health agencies conduct contact tracing and investigate exposures for infectious diseases.
She noted data shows people who tested positive reported restaurants as the second most-frequent place they visited in the 14 days before the onset of their illness. Restaurants are also establishments where people remove their masks, unlike at retailers, she said.
“Unfortunately, the virus has a tendency to spread most prevalently in those areas,” she said.
Brosy-Wiwchar said the department is trying to make the most scientifically informed decisions it can, and that those decisions can feel unfair when a business is placed in impossible circumstances.
“I don't pretend to know what it means to be a business owner in the pandemic. I can't imagine the decisions that they are having to make and the choices they are having to balance,” she said.
Small private gatherings are the most common activity reported by people in the days before the onset of their illness, according to Tri-County Health data.
State leaders have made urgent pleas to Coloradans in recent days to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which has reached worse levels than at any other time since it was confirmed in the state in March.
Bracken said the data Brosy-Wiwchar referenced was too high-level and relied on assumptions to justify banning indoor dining.
Mayor Pro Tem Jason Bower stressed his concern for a shutdown's effect on mental health among community members and called the health order government overreach.
When the meeting opened to public comment, the mood quickly grew emotional as tearful restaurant owners described facing layoffs and the closure of their businesses under level red restrictions.
Jose and Mimi Espinoza, owners of Trestles Coastal Cuisine, said they could soon have to lay off nearly 40 employees shortly before Christmas. The couple, like numerous others, criticized the state for allowing retail establishments to remain open while shuttering eateries to indoor dining.
“There is inequality in the way the mandates are being applied,” Jose said.
None of their employees have become sick, Mimi said, scrutinizing the state's rationale that restaurants are a significant driver in the spread of COVID-19.
C&C Coffee and Kitchen owner Jesse Arellano said the restrictions will kill many of the town's small businesses by next year. C&C drew national attention in May when it opened to large crowds during a ban on indoor dining, before being shut down by local and state health departments.
Arellano and his wife, April, have now closed both of their restaurant locations, he said.
“It's time for you guys to stand up and say we're not going to listen to you,” he told councilmembers.
The overwhelming majority of public comment during the meeting condemned the state's public health order.
Dan Smoker, chairman of the Castle Rock Public Safety Commission, said he joined the meeting to speak on behalf of at-risk community members, citing concerns over local hospitals' ICU capacity levels. He supports the restrictions as a way to limit the virus' spread, empathizing with restaurateurs.
“This is not necessarily being done in a fair and concise way only focusing on the restaurants,” he said. “The problem is there is no perfect data.”
Councilmember Caryn Johnson voted against the resolution, expressing concern for at-risk residents.
“We need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she said.
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