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UPDATE: Judge Denies Restaurant Owners' Challenge to Pitkin County Ban on Indoor Dining

Eleanor Bennett/Aspen Public Radio News
Diners at the Aspen Bear Den on Friday, Jan. 15. Pitkin County's planned roll back of current public health restrictions would effectively ban indoor dining.

UPDATED 7 p.m. Friday: A judge denied the request from the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance, meaning the indoor dining ban will go into effect on Sunday as originally planned.


A group of Pitkin County restaurant owners are trying to block tighter restrictions set by the county’s Board of Health that would ban indoor dining. Court papers filed Thursday evening in Pitkin County District Court challenge that ban, set to take effect on Sunday, Jan. 17. 

The Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance was formed in the wake of the county’s Jan. 12 decision to roll back indoor dining as part of “red” level restrictions. The alliance’s lawsuit names Pitkin County, the county health department and Board of Health, and Pitkin County’s interim health director as defendants, and seeks a temporary restraining order against the indoor dining ban. 


Pitkin County currently allows indoor dining at 25% of normal restaurant capacity, under rules set by the state of Colorado, in addition to some local tweaks billed as level “orange-plus-plus.”  The additional restrictions passed by Pitkin County officials this week to address the high local rate of coronavirus transmission would limit restaurants to takeout, delivery and outdoor seating.


The temporary restraining order filed on behalf of the Aspen-area restaurants would stop the harsher restrictions from going into effect on Sunday. A judge is expected to rule on the temporary restraining order before then.


Chris Bryan, a lawyer with Garfield & Hecht PC, represents the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance. He argues that based on the county’s own health data, it’s inconclusive whether eating indoors is to blame for local coronavirus transmission.


“The decision by the Board of Health to single out restaurants and bring their capacity down to 0% was arbitrary and capricious,” Bryan said. “We don’t believe this action is guided by the science. It feels to us like they’re throwing darts in the dark, and that’s not the best way to administer heavy-handed orders like this that are going to shut down a complete industry.”


Pitkin County’s infection rate is among the highest in the state. The two-week incidence rate for new cases has been steadily climbing since autumn, and began to surge drastically around the new year. As of Jan. 8, that number has slightly levelled off, although it is still higher than at any point since  the pandemic began.


Bryan noted that air travel and lodging are not affected by the county’s new round of restrictions, even though these industries are still bringing potentially infected visitors into Pitkin County, and potentially adding to high local rates of transmission.


A spokeswoman for Pitkin County responded to a request for comment with a short statement:


“The restaurant industry, just like any individual or entity affected by a policy decision, has the right to judicial review. As this is active litigation, we cannot comment any further.” 


Editor’s Note: Garfield & Hecht PC is an underwriter of Aspen Public Radio.

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