The Aspen City Council on Wednesday night passed a series of provisions meant to better maintain public health during the crowded summer season.
Ordinance 11 places a midnight curfew on all retail and restaurant operations, wherein all customers must be off the premises at that time. It also puts more emphasis on store owners to monitor guests for compliance with public health orders such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Councilmember Skippy Mesirow had the hardest time coming around to supporting the measure, saying the early closure will be a blow to restaurants who have been playing by the rules.
“It may, and likely will, do harm to some businesses,” Mesirow said.
The remainder of council emphasized the unknown threats of COVID-19, including lasting ramifications and reinfection rates as a reason to be overly precautious in local regulations. Councilmember Rachel Richards reminded the council of the Denver Post headline calling Aspen a hotspot of the virus in early March. She said another news item along those lines would be devastating to the local economy.
“I’d rather have the headline read to say ‘Aspen takes stringent precautions,’” Richards said.
She voiced concern about what she called a “new fresh class of visitors every week” to Aspen from states that are now watching their COVID-19 cases rise.
Councilmember Ann Mullins echoed that sentiment, saying Aspen’s public health numbers were looking better prior to the economic reopening in late May.
“We are safe because the locals have worked really hard and really stringently to control this virus, and unfortunately a lot of our visitors are not,” Mullins said.
The midnight curfew is meant to avoid a de facto bar environment that has risen once restaurants stop serving food for the evening. Councilmember Ward Hauenstein said he has heard from some restaurant owners that the new law will force conflict with customers. The stricter mask component of the ordinance adds a punitive measure to businesses — a potential license revocation if customers don’t wear masks.
But he compared the requirement to speed limits or smoking rules, saying businesses should already be used to asking tourists to comply with local laws, not laws from their home states.
“This is a public health issue and I think we scold and should expect that our guests abide by our laws,” he said.
The law has an exemption for late-night room service and 24 hour gas pumps. Businesses must remain closed from midnight until 5 a.m.