The city of Durango announced Friday it plans to crack down on pandemic-related public health violations at restaurants as tensions rise in the business community.
Some restaurant owners announced this week they plan to open their doors despite public health orders prohibiting indoor dining. On Friday, the city announced it will begin documenting possible violations at restaurants and initiate enforcement actions.
“The city empathizes with area restaurants and other businesses that are suffering from the loss of income during the pandemic,” said City Manager José Madrigal. “However, the city will assist with the enforcement of state health orders, which are designed to help the public stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
COVID-19 cases in La Plata County began rising significantly in November, including more than a dozen outbreaks associated with indoor dining. The increase triggered stricter state-issued public health restrictions, called “Level Red.” For restaurants, those orders limit capacity and prohibit in-person dining, but they allow takeout and delivery services.
Some local establishments, like CJ’s Diner and Wild Horse Saloon, said they plan to stay open for indoor service out of concern for their financial survival. Several business owners planned to protest the restrictions Friday in downtown Durango.
San Juan Basin Public Health issued a cease-and-desist order to CJ’s Diner this week for violating several pandemic restrictions.
The health department has also asked for assistance from the city police department, according to a news release issue Friday by the city of Durango.
While the Durango Police Department would help investigate and gather information about potential violations, the health department would determine the appropriate response, said Police Chief Bob Brammer.
The city is seeking voluntary compliance. The Durango Police Department plans to continue its education-first approach with people violating the city’s mandatory mask order, which includes fines for noncompliance.
Areas of concern for health officials that could result in enforcement include whether food is being served indoors, if alcohol is served for on-site consumption after 8 p.m., mask violations and/or occupancy number violations, said City Attorney Dirk Nelson.
Businesses that violate the state health order Friday may receive warning letters on Saturday, Nelson said.
None of these actions are taken lightly by the city, he said.
“We are not trying to unnecessarily add to the hardships businesses are facing,” Madrigal said. “We will never understand or comprehend the difficult choices they are having to make for their employees and families.”
Durango Mayor Dean Brookie said the city is looking for more ways to support businesses during the pandemic.
“The city will continue to be proactive in areas like sales tax collections, business permit and other creative methods to help the business community comply and bring a safer and quicker end to this pandemic,” he said.