Aspen City Council passes curfew, face-covering ordinance; businesses could have license revoked
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The city of Aspen’s face mask ordinance applies to people who are inside of a business or mode of public transportation, with the exception of restaurants in which individuals are allowed to take their facial covering off once they are seated at a table.
Face masks are required in other indoor and outdoor places when people are unable to maintain being 6 feet apart from one another outside of their household for more than 10 minutes; however, officials are encouraging individuals to wear them as a standard practice.
Effective Friday, businesses are required to close at midnight and are subject to license revocation if they are found not requiring customers to wear masks in their establishments.
That is per an emergency ordinance that Aspen City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday during a special meeting that started late and did not have public comment.
The new law is designed to empower business owners and representatives to explain to non-compliant customers that it’s city law to wear a mask, and they could lose their liquor or business license if they don’t comply.
The curfew is aimed at curbing existing activity in which some restaurants are operating late night like bars, which can lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases because those imbibing are not social distancing or wearing masks.
Officials are concerned that a communitywide COVID-19 outbreak that taxes the capacity at Aspen Valley Hospital could lead to a second shutdown of the local economy, as well as put lives at risk.
Elected officials expressed concern that visitors from out of state are not following local public health orders and they should, just like if it’s the speed limit on Main Street.
“This is a public health issue and I think that we should expect our guests to abide by our laws,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards asked her colleagues to recall when Pitkin County was first labeled by Gov. Jared Polis and media outlets as a “hotspot” of COVID-19 in early March after a cluster of 13 Australians tested positive for the virus.
She said she doesn’t want that stigma to happen again.
“There is no easy choice here,” she said. “I’d rather have the headline read, ‘Aspen takes stringent precautions to avoid any future community transmission’ and that is what I think we will be doing here with this ordinance.”
Council passed the ordinance on first reading on Tuesday after the curfew concept had been floated among government officials for the past two weeks, including at last Thursday’s Pitkin County Board of Health meeting.
The city’s new public health order is in effect until Aug. 25, and council members could extend or rescind it prior to that date.
The curfew is limited to retail and restaurant operations; hotel room service and gas stations with outdoor pumps are exempt.
The ordinance would allow the city to revoke a business or liquor license up to 15 days if the establishment is found to have willfully and deliberately violated public health orders.
City officials spent a significant amount of time on Wednesday prior to the meeting coming up with an enforcement plan while the municipal government’s health and education team is in the process of being created.
The city this month will hire two consumer and employee health protection complaint specialists.
Environmental Health Director C.J. Oliver said this week that 14 people had applied and there were a couple more days before the job posting closes.
City Manager Sara Ott said while waiting for the team to get off the ground, Mitch Osur, director of parking and downtown services, along with Bobby Schaffer and Lara Xaiz, community response officers with the Aspen Police Department, and Jeanette Whitcomb with environmental health, last week began organized outreach efforts with businesses and restaurants.
Police officers on the night shift will conduct routine restaurant checks, like they have traditionally done in the past at bars, to determine if they are complying with the business hour limitation.
If any location was open and had patrons present after midnight, those facts would be documented via video from body cameras and forwarded to Ott’s office, or a group of delegates charged with determining whether to suspend a liquor license.
A restaurant could have its liquor license immediately suspended and would have to cease business.
A hearing would then be held by council to determine whether to maintain or revoke the suspension, or take any other action.
“If anybody’s getting a license suspended or revoked this council better be prepared to get together ASAP,” said Mayor Torre, adding he would have preferred seven-day suspensions, not 15. “That is not something to be delayed, something to be trifled with so this council better be ready to have special meetings and get to action on that.”
In terms of businesses allowing customers inside without a face covering, it would most likely be complaint based, which requires a witness to make a complaint to the city, according to Ott.
Finance Director Pete Strecker then has authority to suspend a business license and order the business to close.
“We see the city of Aspen health and education team as playing a significant role in helping businesses avoid finding themselves in such a situation,” Ott said prior to the meeting. “They will continue to educate and problem solve as complaints come in with the goal of making the best of a challenging business environment.”