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Denver Department of Public Health & Environment. Chart: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

From ignoring mask requirements to unlawfully remaining open, Denver issued at least 327 violations of COVID-19 public health orders in the past year — with restaurants and bars leading the list of violators.

By the numbers: Restaurants and bars represented 44% of offenders between May 19, 2020, and March 18, 2021, an Axios analysis of city data finds.

  • Retail businesses ranked second highest at 22%.
  • At least 37 businesses, or about 11%, had more than one violation.
  • 79% of offenses were mask violations.

"To give the bad actors a pass would be patently unfair to the thousands of businesses that are following the rules, to say nothing of the on-going risk to the public," said City Attorney Kristin Bronson in a statement.

Of note: Less than 2% of the 18,780 compliance interactions resulted in enforcement.

The other side: Some businesses in Denver are challenging their violations, with many arguing the city’s rules are arbitrary and enforcement is inconsistent.

  • Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School — which has been cited three times for breaching mask and social distancing rules — tells Axios that the health department’s citations "were not justified" and school officials are "seeking to have them dismissed."
  • E3 Fitness owner Justin Holle — whose business has been temporarily ordered closed after five citations — says he is also challenging his violation.

What they're saying: "The rules aren’t fairly placed on all businesses, and I think the fitness industry in particular has been a scarlet letter pariah from the beginning of this," Holle told Axios.

Yes, but: All five businesses that have challenged their public health order violations — Hobby Lobby, Urban Air Trampoline, Beta Nightclub, Spanky’s Roadhouse and Urban Sombrero — have lost in court, according to the city attorney’s office.

The big picture: Colorado is one of 19 states whose coronavirus cases are increasing. Meanwhile, Gov. Jared Polis is continuing to loosen restrictions, including in restaurants and bars.

See the list of violators

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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