Jun 4, 2021 - News
Colorado passed the buck, now businesses are the COVID cops
Illustration of a mask with an animated "no smoking" symbol over it, with the crossbar extending to different lengths, but never getting all the way across.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

One recent day, the staff at Potager received a call complaining about the Denver restaurant's indoor mask requirement.

  • The caller claimed to be the governor.

The prank is just one example of the abuse that business owners are enduring since Gov. Jared Polis lifted most of the state's mask requirements in May.

Why it matters: Business owners are the new COVID cops — tasked with developing public health protocols to meet their needs and those of their customers, even though the latter can't agree on the right approach.

Now a confusing patchwork of policies exists, different from one door to the next.

  • And business owners risk angering customers either way — mask rules or not.
Axios/Ipsos Poll; Note: 3.2% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: Potager, considered one of the city's best restaurants, is asking customers to wear masks indoors (except while seated/eating) until the state exceeds a population that is more than 50% fully immunized. Right now, Colorado's rate is near 45%.

What they're saying: Eileen Warthen, the co-owner, said her toddler who cannot be vaccinated is at the restaurant four nights a week. She says those who give the staff a hard time about wearing a face covering will get kicked out.

  • "I honestly don't see what the big deal is," she told Axios. "In my mind, it's a no-shirt, no-shoes, no-mask, no-service kind of policy."
  • "But people, in general, seem to have forgotten we were in a global pandemic and have been aghast when we ask them to mask up."

Between the lines: Other local businesses, such as Marczyk Fine Foods, recently made masks voluntary for customers — vaccinated or not — in part because it's been "so stressful" being "mask police," general manager Will Sorensen tells Axios.

  • Before the change, at least a dozen customers called the grocery store's employees Nazis, he said.

Marczyk changed its mask policy at the start of June. The decision was also driven by the state's new public health order, and the fact that 90% of its staff are vaccinated.

  • However, many people on Sorensen's team continue to wear masks and a few are even looking for positions in a new industry out of fear for their safety, he said.

The bottom line: "We all have to make the decisions that are best for us as individuals, but also keep in mind what's best for society," Sorensen said. "Having that balance has been pretty darn tough."

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