Weld County Health Department says it will not shut down restaurants open for in-person dining

Health Dept. says it is up to the state to enforce its own orders
Posted at 6:36 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 09:56:59-04

GREELEY, Colo.  — From Castle Rock to Centennial, health departments are shutting down restaurants for violating the state's safer-at-home order by offering dine-in service in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus across the state.

But in Weld County – which has the third-highest number of COVID-19 deaths among Colorado counties, the fifth-highest case rate per 100,000 people and is experiencing multiple outbreaks – no restaurants are being shut down by the county department of public health and environment.

Kelley Chagolla, the owner of The Charro Mexican Restaurant in Greeley, says she started offering dine-in service more than a week ago.

"Repercussions from the county? They will not come after us. We talked to the health department and they gave us the guidelines that they had for them, so we’ve been following them," she said.

For Chagolla, opening her restaurant against Governor Jared Polis' orders isn’t a political move, but a way for her to survive during the pandemic.

"We really want clear guidance. We’d like to have our government — all layers and levels of it — to get on the same page and get us out of this mess," Chagolla said.

But the county and state aren’t on the same page.

Officials with the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment (WCDPHE) said they will not enforce restrictions made on the state level.

In response, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said in part, “...we always start with voluntary compliance and education, but we will pursue additional remedies through orders or the courts when necessary. In each case we are evaluating three main factors -- official complaints, local actions, and the level of purposeful defiance.”

The spat between the CDPHE and the WCDPHE comes as the latter scrambles to find a replacement for its top health official.

Last week, Dr. Mark Wallace, who led the WCDPHE for nearly 20 years, suddenly announced his retirement at the end of the month. The announcement came a week after a report from The NoCo Optimist, an online news outlet based in Greeley, which obtained documents that showed Wallace warned county commissioners not to allow businesses to reopen last month, as they did once the statewide stay-at-home order expired.

For now, Chagolla said she plans on continuing to serve customers at a safe social distance, not waiting for government to catch up.

"I would prefer for them to look at me more as an example of how to run and operate a business after it is open," the restaurant owner said.