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Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop



Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango faces possible enforcement action after allegedly offering a discount to customers who entered the store without wearing a face.

“This is a little different than the usual complaint,” Brian Devine told the San Juan Basin Public Health.

Earlier this week, Top That reportedly posted to Facebook that it would offer a 10% discount to anyone who came in and said “Happy Columbus Day,” an apparent withdrawal to the Indigenous Peoples Day movement.

The post went on to say: “And as always 10% discount without masks !! Merica !! ”

In an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-1

9, facial coatings are required by state law in indoor spaces where social distance cannot be maintained.

Not long after, a stream of complaints came through SJBPH’s portal for reporting violations of public health orders. As of Thursday morning, 76 complaints had been filed against Top That, 58 of them since Monday.

Complaints also included several photos of employees and customers not wearing masks inside the store.

Store owner Ryan Bartholomew did not respond to requests for comment. As of Thursday, it looked like Top That had taken down its entire Facebook page.

SJBPH on Thursday morning consulted a local enforcement group formed to meet on breaches of the public health order. The group consists of public health organizations, local law enforcement agencies and licensing municipalities.

A Facebook post from Top That Frozen Yogurt in Durango.

Greetings from La Plata County

Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop

A Facebook post from Top That Frozen Yogurt in Durango.

Greetings from La Plata County

SJBPH has also requested the assistance of the Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to discuss possible enforcement actions at the yogurt shop.

“This is more serious than violating the PHO (Public Health Orders) through ignorance or lack of management control,” the San Juan Basin Public Health wrote in a statement to Durango Herald. “And SJBPH is looking at all available legal options to stop Top That from deliberately creating a risk to public health.”

Devine said the health department receives complaints that companies do not follow public health orders on a daily basis, but in most cases they are for minor offenses, as if a person does not have face clothing in a grocery store.

These situations can usually be resolved by talking to store owners and coming up with ways to solve the problem, and for the most part, companies are trying to comply with public health orders, Devine said.

An image showing a sports team inside Top That Frozen Yogurt without face clothing. The yogurt shop apparently offered a 10% discount to anyone who did not wear a face mask inside the store. The San Juan Basin Health Department received dozens of complaints.

Greetings from La Plata County

Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop

An image showing a sports team inside Top That Frozen Yogurt without face clothing. The yogurt shop apparently offered a 10% discount to anyone who did not wear a face mask inside the store. The San Juan Basin Health Department received dozens of complaints.

Greetings from La Plata County

An employee at Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango works behind the counter without a face mask, apparently in violation of state public health orders.

Greetings from La Plata County

Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop

An employee at Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango works behind the counter without a face mask, apparently in violation of state public health orders.

Greetings from La Plata County

It is far more rare for a company to knowingly and purposefully violate and continue to violate health orders. Devine estimated that there are about half a dozen cases of companies taking this course since the pandemic started in March.

SJBPH refused to release the names of each company deliberately violating health orders. As of Thursday, no companies have been issued a referral or had a license revoked for health order violations, the health department said.

However, in these situations, SJBPH will meet with the local enforcement team to discuss the best course of action.

One of the more public struggles involves Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio, which does not require customers or employees to wear masks. SJBPH has consulted the Attorney General’s Office for assistance in the next steps.

“We want people in the remote community to have the opportunity to act safely,” said Liane Jollon, CEO of the San Juan Basin Public Health.

Farmers Fresh Market manager Amos Lee said he allows his employees and customers to make their own decision on whether or not to wear face, and it should not be up to companies to enforce the mandate.

“We have supported everyone to make their own decisions from the start and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Lee said many people disagree on whether masks are effective in slowing down the spread of the virus and that it is about a 50-50 split of employees and customers entering the store wearing face clothing.

“It’s awful and it’s causing a huge amount of strife,” he said. “All this division in society, that’s not a good thing at all.”

Studies have shown that people are 20 times more likely to catch COVID-19 indoors instead of outdoors, Jollon said, and when it comes to the greatest risk of spread among businesses, it is among employees.

“These companies create the greatest risk to their own workforce,” Jollon said.

And when COVID-19 spreads among employees, these people then take the virus to their homes, resulting in further infection and transmission from the community and prolonging the pandemic, Jollon said.

Facial coatings are believed to help slow the spread of the virus, although wearing masks has become a politicized topic across the country.

Tim Walsworth, CEO of the Durango Business Improvement District, said a state mandate that requires facial coatings has helped companies get the message across to customers, but it puts employees in a difficult position.

“It puts companies in a funky place where they basically had to turn down a customer,” he said. “In certain situations, it can get very confrontational when both parties want to make a point.”

In fact, there have been flare ups due to mask wearing in Durango.

In August, a 23-year-old woman from Durango allegedly punched a man in the face after the woman gave rise to several people who were not wearing face clothing at O’Reilly Auto Parts.

The man with blows to the face was identified as Bartholomew, owner of Top That.

A crowd of people inside Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango, many without face clothing.

Greetings from La Plata County

Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop

A crowd of people inside Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango, many without face clothing.

Greetings from La Plata County

A sign on Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango says, “your mask is as worthless as Dean Brookie,” referring to Durango’s mayor.

Greetings from La Plata County

Health officials increase the heat in Durango yogurt shop

A sign on Top That Frozen Yogurt in downtown Durango says, “your mask is as worthless as Dean Brookie,” referring to Durango’s mayor.

Greetings from La Plata County

The frozen yogurt shop has apparently turned into a political lightning rod in downtown Durango after putting Republican political signs and flags to a number of candidates, including Trump-Pence and Lauren Boebert, who runs for the 3rd Congressional District.

Earlier this month, Durango School District 9-R students were seen shouting and making vulgar gestures to people inside the store during a demonstration that was supposed to be about climate change.

And just this week, Indigenous people’s day in the center of Durango drew counter-protesters outside the yogurt shop, some of whom wore Trump gear and shouted “USA.”

In a Facebook post that has since been removed, Top That wrote that counter-protesters were not affiliated or supported by the store.

“We do not tolerate the use of hate speech, such as naming and / or vulgar gestures from the people outside the store,” the post said.

jromeo@durangoherald.com


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