Colorado governor: Defiant restaurants could lose licenses

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference about the state’s rapid increase in cases of the new coronavirus Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Denver. Colorado officials are dealing with a steep increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the past month. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER | Gov. Jared Polis warned Tuesday that some Colorado restaurant owners who defy or ignore strict state health orders to stem spread of the coronavirus could lose their licenses to operate.

Colorado’s restaurant sector has been hit hard during the pandemic, with many forced to close and thousands of workers laid off.

In recent days, restaurants in counties designated “red” by the state in a color-coded scheme that gauges increasing COVID-19 infection cases have been forced to halt indoor dining.

“Every business in the state of Colorado needs to follow our laws and, whether you agree with it or not, in red counties, not having indoor dining is the law of Colorado,” Polis said. “Any type of business that violates a health order, whether it’s hepatitis, salmonella or COVID … could lose their license to operate.”

The Democratic governor’s comments came after several Loveland businesses in Larimer County signed a letter stating that they will continue operating at full indoor capacity even though the county was placed in the “red” restriction category on Tuesday.

Polis said government financial aid for the restaurant sector is coming — possibly in the form of sales tax breaks — when the Legislature convenes in a special session next week to consider relief measures for small businesses, public school students and residents hurt financially by the pandemic.

“It’s really important that we keep consumer confidence in places being safe. And we don’t want a few bad actors undermining that for the restaurant industry,” Polis said. “Especially at a time when I have called our state legislature to step up to help the good actors in the restaurant industry.”

Aid to restaurants may not be equitably distributed. The Colorado Sun reported Tuesday that many restaurant owners in 21 counties whose customer capacity has been reduced because of the state public health orders do not think sales tax relief will be enough to allow them to survive.

Sonia Riggs, chief executive officer of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said she would welcome state tax credits and said her organization is encouraging municipalities to consider similar local tax breaks.

Polis also announced the creation of a back-to-school task force that will meet for the first time on Wednesday to discuss ways for K-12 students to return for in-person learning for the spring semester.

“We can’t let the future of our kids become yet another casualty of this pandemic,” he said.

Denver Public Schools, Colorado’s largest public school system, recently announced it would go fully remote for the rest of the fall semester.

Polis has insisted schools should remain open, citing data suggesting schools are relatively safe.

He reiterated his stance on Tuesday, saying schools are the safest place for students and teachers “regardless of the level of outbreak in the community because it is a safe environment, a regulated environment.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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