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Businesses protest over COVID restrictions in Pueblo

Posted at 6:27 PM, Oct 29, 2020

PUEBLO, Colorado — It's been a tough year at Graham's Grill where the burgers and sloppers they're selling today are a welcome relief from the lockdowns and capacity limits of the spring and summer.

Owner Heather Graham worries city-wide restrictions in response to growing COVID activity here could devastate her business.

"My people can't go through another shutdown," she said. "I employ 120 people between the four businesses. I can't tell people they're out of a job two months before Christmas."

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment currently rates Pueblo County at Level 2 on the COVID Dial. However, the data points they use to track the speed with which the virus is spreading indicates more trouble is coming. The state could classify the City at Level 3 which would cut capacity limits to 25 percent at restaurants, or order the community back into another shutdown.

Pueblo County's positivity rate has quadrupled since the beginning of the month. The 368 cases per 100,000 residents are more than triple the threshold that state health officials want to see.

Mayor Nick Gradisar told reporters Thursday that there were only two ICU beds available on Tuesday between the city's two hospitals.

"Pueblo, this is a fight for our lives and our livelihoods," the mayor said. "I'm calling on you to do your part."

Gradisar announced a two-week curfew that will be in effect between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. starting on Friday. He also announced stricter enforcement of public health order violations such as exceeding capacity limits, not enforcing the mask mandate, and operating after recommended hours.

The mayor pointed out that the Pueblo Liquor Board suspended the license of the Broadway Tavern for three days for repeated violations of the health order.

"If we don't take action now, my fear is that we'll see increased deaths in the City of Pueblo and we'll see more businesses failing," Gradisar said.

News of the curfew surprised business owner Lee Gladney, who is also a member of the Downtown Association.

"I'm certain that there's a lot of members in the Downtown Association that would be severely impacted by his statements today," Gladney said.

He feels like the city's response is too harsh. Curfew violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a 1-year jail sentence.

Gladney and Graham joined with other local business owners at City Hall Thursday afternoon to protests against the restrictions. They want city leaders to stand up against restrictions and lockdowns issued by the governor and state health department.

Graham, who also owns Ruby's Wine Bar and the Pueblo Athletic Club, points out that the federal government gave out PPP loans and other relief to businesses early in the pandemic. None of that's happening now.

"We know cases are rising, we understand; we're not dismissing coronavirus," Graham said. "But we want to know why us, why small business, why do we have to suffer, why are we carrying all of this on our shoulders?"

The mayor said that essential workers will be exempt from the curfew restriction and that includes election workers who will be working late on Tuesday night.