DENVER — Local businesses in Denver, Colo., are frustrated after 12 months of repeat fines from government officials who enforce lockdown laws implemented with little notice.
Last summer, the COVID-19 police marched into Apex Human Performance, a gym in northeast Denver offering high-intensity programs, where they fined the establishment $1,000 for several distanced patrons not wearing face masks.
Austin Rowe, the gym’s owner, told The Federalist social distancing guidelines had already cost the gym “tens of thousands of dollars” by limiting capacity which forced customers to stay home, despite research indicating early on excessive weight gain substantially rose individuals’ risk profile to complications from COVID-19. Less than a year later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 80 percent of those hospitalized with the novel coronavirus were overweight or obese. The regulations, however, forced Rowe to get creative and offer online programs to keep additional revenue coming in.
“If we just ran business as it was we would have gone under for sure,” Rowe told The Federalist. While the $1,000 fine didn’t break the bank, it added insult to injury coming from officers who wore masks below the nose and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the gym demanding its participants remain vigilant with social distancing.
Face masks remain mandatory for all, even during high-intensity exercise despite Colorado’s vaccine progress and safety hazards to the individuals that wear them.
There was no warning from city health officials that COVID guidelines had been updated last summer, which caught Rowe and others by surprise. The lack of an organized effort by the city to communicate changes in policy has prompted fines across the city, primarily enforced through anonymous tip lines, i.e., avenues for snitches to tattle on their neighbors.
According to Axios in March, at least 327 citations were written to businesses found in defiance of local edicts since March of last year. The distribution of violations is outlined in the Axios chart below.
Several businesses voiced their resentment to The Federalist with the city’s ill-communicated campaign to inform them of changes in policy while applying the rules inconsistently, while others, for fear of retribution from government officials pursuing selective surveillance, remained silent.
Justin Holle’s story, who owns another fitness studio in Denver, E3 Fitness, illustrates what can happen to those who protest the city’s dystopian orders. Similar to others, Holle was caught off guard when police arrived at his gym late last summer and ticketed the establishment for patrons not wearing face masks during exercise.
“We didn’t get any help from any organization to help us pivot as things changed,” Holle complained. Holle claimed it was another gym owner in the area who submitted the complaint about his gym not requiring face masks.
Customers, evaluating their own risk, attended the maskless classes without issue. Those who felt too uncomfortable to attend were reimbursed. Rowe said Apex was also a victim of a vindictive gym owner in the area, likely the same competitor. To this day, however, not one COVID-19 case has been linked to either Holle or Rowe’s gym by contact tracers.
Holle protested the $1,000 face mask fine, and was visited again by local law enforcement within 36 hours and handed another. Several months later, Holle was fined again on mask violations in February, March, and eventually forced to temporarily close his business. “They shut me down,” he said.
Holle said the ten-day shutdown cost between $2,250 and $2,800 on top of the $5,000 in fines contested in court. Holle said he was dragged before the judge nearly a dozen times defending himself in protest of what are inconsistent rules. While gyms are forced to comply with strict guidelines for masks and social distancing in high-ceiling, ventilated spaces, restaurants have remained free to sit down patrons directly across from each other with no required masks at the table. Other businesses have gotten away with violations altogether.
Wes Christopherson, who runs A&E Tire, a local tire shop, also complained of the double standards applied across businesses. While the Denver basketball arena hosts maskless players in the close-contact sport, the city fined Christopherson’s business for employees not wearing masks in a wide-open, 40,000-square foot warehouse.
“It’s a tough topic for me to talk about because I don’t understand how NBA players can play indoors sweating all over each other and my guys have to wear masks in open warehouses doing manual labor,” Christopherson told The Federalist.
The tire shop owner determined the fine was not worth hiring lawyers over and paid the fine without challenge.