How is Routt County enforcing masks and social distancing?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Law enforcement in Routt County receive complaints nearly every day about people not wearing masks or not following social distancing guidelines, but what they do with those complaints depends heavily on the situation.
Usually, they leave it to businesses to enforce the rules.
“We feel that it’s best enforced by the individual businesses throughout the county,” said Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.
Businesses in the county require patrons to wear masks unless they are seated at a table eating or drinking. Businesses are directed to refuse service to anyone trying to enter without a mask.
If a person refuses to either wear a mask, leave a business or removes their mask while inside the building and not seated at a table, the business can call law enforcement, and the person can be cited for trespassing, though law enforcement members said that’s rare.
“We’ve written very few trespassing tickets,” said Cory Christensen, Steamboat Springs Police Department chief. “The officers are working to de-escalate the situation and help the individual understand why compliance is important.”
A more common scenario, Christensen said, is officers being called to a situation where a person refuses to wear a mask, educating the person, and either the person putting it on or leaving the business.
“Our philosophy has always been to support the businesses in the ways which they are trying to comply with these public health orders” he said.
Ultimately, Christensen said, enforcement is up to the businesses, but law enforcement works to support businesses in that enforcement.
“We do try to support the business owner who’s trying to do the best they can to adhere to the public health of this community,” he said.
Scott Cowman, Routt County environmental health director, said the county goal is to have almost 100% compliance, knowing they’ll never reach perfection.
“I try to keep an eye on the bigger picture,” he said.
If someone attends a business where they see social distancing and masks are not being followed, they can report such conduct through the county website. From there, the business usually receives a written warning via email, though it’s hard to prove misconduct without video or photo evidence, which Cowman said the county rarely receives.
If a business receives multiple complaints of not enforcing COVID-19 guidelines, they could face license revocation, though the county has not done that yet.
“So far, it’s worked pretty well, and people have been pretty cooperative,” Cowman said.
When COVID-19 first hit Colorado, the county created teams assigned to the mountain, downtown and western areas of Steamboat to visit businesses and ensure protocols are being followed.
“I think some people aren’t comfortable confronting someone not wearing a mask, and they don’t want to get into a contentious situation,” Cowman said. “We’re trying to create a presence in the community.”
As cases continue to increase in Routt County with more travelers expected for the winter sports season, Cowman said the county is considering hiring people to work as COVID-19 ambassadors to help educate people about guidelines, since “not everyone is super knowledgeable about specifics of the rules and guidelines,” Cowman said.
Routt County is currently in the Safer At Home, Level 1 stage of Colorado’s restriction statuses, meaning restaurants are open at 50% capacity, group sports at 50 people per activity, indoor events must be at 50% capacity and other rules.
People gathering outdoors are not required to wear masks unless waiting for public transportation. Despite this part of the mask ordinance, police have been called multiple times for groups of people gathering in support of President Donald Trump or Republican congressional candidate Lauren Boebert.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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