Town outlines education, enforcement of public health orders

By Chris Mannara
Staff Writer

Town of Pagosa Springs staff and Pagosa Springs Police Department (PSPD) Chief William Rockensock outlined how they are respectively doing their part to enforce state and local health orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic at a Pagosa Springs Town Council meeting on Aug. 20.

The town initially aims to start the process by educating citizens and tourists of the state and local health orders in place, according to Town Manager Andrea Phillips.

Some of these orders include things such as the requirement to wear face coverings in indoor public places, Phillips noted.

The goal is for compliance and to get people to understand the requirements, but it can escalate from there if people are not coming into compliance, Phillips explained.

“It’s really up to county attorneys and district attorneys and that judicial district with causes of action to bring civil or criminal actions against violators of standing public health orders,” Town Attorney Clay Buchner said.

However, that does not mean that the town has not been proactive with enforcement, but it is the way of the town playing its role, Buchner noted.

“We don’t want to punish people, we don’t want to alienate our citizens and/or our visitors,” Buchner said. “The health district and the governor’s orders is that masks are to be worn. The enforcement of that becomes an issue. Where does private enforcement end and Pagosa Springs Police Department begin?”

Buchner, town staff and Rockensock worked together on a memo that outlines the town’s enforcement procedure to answer some of town council’s questions.

“We do care about the violations and we do care about the community. We’re going to follow the public health order because it’s required and it’s the right thing to do, but also because we care about the community and these public health orders are for the safety of our community and our visitors,” Buchner said.

If the town gets a report or an observance of a violation then the first step is to educate, Buchner described.

“It would be very hard to argue that someone is unaware that there is a mask order,” Buchner said. 

The next step after a warning is the creation of a “docket” on people who are systemically violating the public health order even after they have been educated, he described.

“After that has happened, the chief, by and through their internal process, is going to report up to the county and or the health district, because that’s what the statute requires,” Buchner said, citing Colorado Revised Statute 25-1-514.

At that point, it puts the issue into the county’s and health district’s hands for the prosecution of the violations of public health orders, Buchner described.

“At this time, the process is that after a written warning, we will not be issuing civil or criminal citations to violators after education,” he said. “We’re going to be sending those consistent violators up to the county or health district level for prosecution appropriately pursuant to the revised statute.”

According to Rockensock, as of April 7, the PSPD has seen 69 complaints through the San Juan Basin Public Health (SJPBH) portal.

Of those 69 complaints, 10 of them were in unincorporated Archuleta County, Rockensock explained.

“Most of those complaints were, initially prior to the mandatory mask order, were social distancing complaints, restaurants not wearing their masks or not having social distancing between people and that sort of thing,” he said. “After the mask order on July 16, we’ve received 37 complaints. Of those 37 complaints, I would say about 60-40 of those complaints, percentage-wise, 40 percent being employees at businesses and/or restaurants, the employees themselves not wearing masks.”

The remainder of those complaints are primarily patrons of businesses not wearing masks, Rockensock said.

Two restaurants account for 14 of those complaints, with one restaurant in particular receiving nine complaints while the other has received five, Rockensock noted, adding that the PSPD has been working with SJBPH and the restaurants to fix the problem.

“Unfortunately, there have been a lot of complaints that don’t provide enough information,” Rockensock said. “People put in a lot of anonymous complaints or make up names when they register these complaints online.”

About nine complaints have been received that were described by Rockensock as “complete misunderstandings of the actual order” leading to those being unfounded.

“We’re doing the best with what we can with it,” he said. 

The PSPD has received various responses from business owners on enforcement of the public health orders, Rockensock noted, adding that some issue has been taken with business owners putting signage up in their establishment.

Rockensock noted that responses have varied.

According to Rockensock, the PSPD is trying to address complaints as soon as possible, adding that there have been “very few” ongoing problems.

“I think the education piece is out there now,” Rockensock said. “All the information is available to anyone and we do as much education as anyone. I’m not sure there’s any more, quote unquote, education to be done with it.”

This story was posted on September 2, 2020.