Local health officials and law enforcement are starting to clamp down on nonessential businesses still operating despite Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order last week shuttering certain stores to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the order was put in place, the Durango Police Department has responded to two complaints, though Cmdr. Ray Shupe did not immediately have the names of the businesses.
People who see a business that doesn’t meet the criteria for an essential business are encouraged to report the activity to San Juan Basin Public Health or fill out the Police Department’s online reporting form at https://bit.ly/3bRsS79.
Polis’ order includes a long list of exempt workplaces, including health care, certain infrastructure operations, manufacturing, critical retail and services, construction, public safety and some professional services like legal.
But if businesses don’t meet this criteria, it is illegal to continue operations, and if reported, owners face a $5,000 fine and mandatory shutdown.
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said health officials are awaiting clearer definitions of what’s essential and what’s not, which is expected to come from Polis’ office this week.
Then, it is likely health officials and law enforcement will become more aggressive in ensuring compliance from nonessential businesses still open.
“People have to understand it’s our collective action as individuals who have the ability to slow the spread,” Jollon said. “If you’re nonessential, you shouldn’t be doing business.”
Shupe said once a complaint is filed, Durango officers will first visit a business and try to get voluntary compliance. But if that doesn’t work, and officers have to come back a second time, owners face civil and criminal penalties.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said his department is also awaiting clearer guidelines from the state. But, he said he hopes businesses take it upon themselves to close for the health of the community. His department has fielded two complaints to date.
“Obviously, it’s very concerning (staying open),” he said. “The longer people don’t do that, the longer it’s going on and we’ll have this problem.”
Smith added that if businesses don’t comply, and as a result, the virus spreads more quickly and more widespread, it may force even more stringent restrictions.
“Don’t force us to be the bad guys in this situation,” he said. “We’re trying to protect everyone, but we need people to be smart and do their part.”
Businesses deemed essential must follow social-distancing requirements and are encouraged to let employees work remotely or on staggered schedules when possible.
“The sacrifices that Coloradans are making will pay off in the long run,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement. “It will take everyone acting together to slow the spread of the illness to a level that our health care systems can absorb, but countless lives will be saved through these measures.”