Aspen company refuses to give COVID test to conservative activist; owners stand behind decision |

Aspen company refuses to give COVID test to conservative activist; owners stand behind decision

Candace Owens is in Aspen on business vacation and tried to get test at private downtown facility

Conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a rally at The Ellipse, before entering to the White House, where President Donald Trump will hold an event on the South lawn on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

An Aspen business’s refusal to test a person for COVID-19 because of her outspoken views on the coronavirus has touched off both praise and condemnation for the decision.

On Wednesday evening, conservative commentator Candace Owens went public to her 7 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram with an email from Aspen COVID Testing co-owner Suzanna Lee. The email noted the business would not test Owens due to her stances on the virus.

A well-known conservative commentator and political activist and a best-selling author, Owens, in an interview Thursday morning with The Aspen Times, said she ended up being tested by a physician, and the result was negative.

Staff for Owens had registered her to be tested at the Hyman Avenue facility while she is in Aspen this week on a business vacation with her husband and baby boy. Lee, however, emailed back that they would not be accepting Owens’ business due to her influential platform. Owens is strongly against getting vaccinated and doesn’t wear a mask.

“We cannot support anyone who has pro-actively worked to make this pandemic worse by spreading misinformation, politicizing and DISCOURAGING the wearing of masks and actively dissuading people from receiving life-saving vaccinations,” said Lee’s email to Owens, which was dated Aug. 31.

Lee’s suggested Owens could be tested at kiosk behind Aspen City Hall.

“My team and myself have worked overtime, to exhaustion, unpaid and underpaid this past year, spending our own capital to ensure that our community remains protected. It would be unfair to them and to the sacrifices we have all made this year to serve you.”

Lee and her business partner, Isaac Flanagan, stood by the email’s remarks on Thursday evening in an interview with The Aspen Times. Had Owens shown symptoms or was “a potential risk to the community,” they would have tested her, but not in a “non-emergency scenario for someone working proactively to undermine the realities of this devastating pandemic,” Flanagan said.

A doctor takes a blood sample to test Isaac Flannagan for COVID-19 antibodies in the lab at Aspen Covid Testing on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Co-owner Suzanna Lee watches the process. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Owens also had sought the test through the company’s concierge service, they said.

“We stand behind our staff and we’re not sending them to someone’s hotel room when they don’t feel safe,” Lee told The Times.

In a telephone interview, Owens said a private company has every right to turn away business. But in this instance, against the backdrop of public health, she questioned the call.

“She is a private business owner,” Owens said. “She does have a right to decline to give me service, and that’s not what the issue is here. I want that to be very clear. Assuming that she has not accepted any state or federal funding, assuming that she truly is a private-business owner, then she has every right to discriminate against who she serves. But it should be noted that she was seeking to prevent me from keeping the Aspen community safe.”

Lee and Flanagan said their testing business is strictly private and hasn’t received any public dollars at the local, state or federal levels. Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock confirmed Aspen COVID Testing receives no local or state funding.

“We feel unbelievably good about what we do,” Flanagan said. “We do not discriminate, and we do not pick and choose who we do and don’t test. Our patients come from every walk of life and every political affiliation.”

Owens, however, said the letter sent the message that keeping the community safe is tied to politics.

“And in this particular regard, irrespective of what you think about my stance on vaccinations, I’m following COVID measures in Aspen,” she said. “I’m following COVID measures when I go to venues, when I go to events. I’m listening to what people want done. So if her goal is to keep the Aspen community safe … shouldn’t you say this a good thing that unvaccinated people are at least being responsible to make sure that they’re not spreading the virus?”

Lee said she was immersed all day in “crisis management.” She had to hire extra phone operators to field calls from people upset with her decision.

“It’s been horrible,” she said. “My inbox has been inundated with nasty, horrible messages.”

She said had to contact police because she was feeling threatened.

Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said there “an active investigation going on” but he declined to go into specifics.

“I can say our No. 1 concern is overall public safety, so we are just being attentive to what’s going on over there,” he said. “We have a case number and we are actively keeping an eye on the developments in that situation.”

Owens said she regularly gets tested because she travels often, but her experience in Aspen was a first.

“Never,” she said. “I’ve been tested from Croatia to London. This has never happened. Ever. Actually, you would think health care would be free from politics. And actually what’s she doing is actually giving us fire and fuel, and when I say ‘us,’ I’m talking about us who feel that this virus has been politicized. You’re proving that it’s politicized. … This should have been, ‘OK, I hate you, Candace, but I’m glad you are at least doing the right thing and making sure that your are keeping the community and ensuring you don’t have COVID.’“

Last week, Owens posted on Twitter: “If you do not understand that there is something purely evil involved right now in terms of these vaccines you will never understand. It will NEVER enter my arm.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Republican who represents Aspen as part of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, also chimed in Thursday morning tweeting: “It’s a shame to see this in Colorado in this day and age. Denying Candace a COVID test because she’s a conservative? The Left just goes lower and lower every single day.”

Lee had plenty of supporters on social media. Among the accolades were:

— “Just beautiful. I nominate Suzanna Lee for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

— “Suzanna Lee is an American hero.”

— “Oh wow, this is fabulous. Go Suzanna Lee!!! Amen, girl! Your business, your choice! Candace — head to the kiosk in the alley for your test Face with tears of joy you guys seem to think you’re above the ‘actions have consequences’ rule, you’re not… at all…”

— “Well, well, well. So now the lady that called Covid a scam and basically ridiculed the entire safely protocols, got shut down for a covid test by a private owned lab run by Suzanna Lee.”

— “Aspen is cheering on Suzanna Lee!”