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Aspen company refuses to give COVID test to conservative activist Candace Owens

Conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a rally at The Ellipse, before entering to the White House, where President Donald Trump will hold an event on the South lawn on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

An Aspen business’s refusal to test a person for COVID-19 because of her outspoken views on the coronavirus has touched off both praise and condemnation for the decision.

On Wednesday evening, conservative commentator Candace Owens went public to her 7 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram with an email from Aspen COVID Testing co-owner Suzanna Lee. The email noted the business would not test Owens due to her stances on the virus.

A well-known conservative commentator and political activist and a best-selling author, Owens, in an interview Thursday morning with The Aspen Times, said she ended up being tested by a physician, and the result was negative.

Staff for Owens had registered her to be tested at the Hyman Avenue facility while she is in Aspen this week on a business vacation with her husband and baby boy. Lee, however, emailed back that they would not be accepting Owens’ business due to her influential platform. Owens is strongly against getting vaccinated and doesn’t wear a mask.

“We cannot support anyone who has pro-actively worked to make this pandemic worse by spreading misinformation, politicizing and DISCOURAGING the wearing of masks and actively dissuading people from receiving life-saving vaccinations,” said Lee’s email to Owens, which was dated Aug. 31.

Lee’s suggested Owens could be tested at kiosk behind Aspen City Hall.

“My team and myself have worked overtime, to exhaustion, unpaid and underpaid this past year, spending our own capital to ensure that our community remains protected. It would be unfair to them and to the sacrifices we have all made this year to serve you.”

Lee and her business partner, Isaac Flanagan, stood by the email’s remarks on Thursday evening in an interview with The Aspen Times. Had Owens shown symptoms or was “a potential risk to the community,” they would have tested her, but not in a “non-emergency scenario for someone working proactively to undermine the realities of this devastating pandemic,” Flanagan said.

Owens also had sought the test through the company’s concierge service, they said.

“We stand behind our staff and we’re not sending them to someone’s hotel room when they don’t feel safe,” Lee told The Times.

In a telephone interview, Owens said a private company has every right to turn away business. But in this instance, against the backdrop of public health, she questioned the call.

“She is a private business owner,” Owens said. “She does have a right to decline to give me service, and that’s not what the issue is here. I want that to be very clear. Assuming that she has not accepted any state or federal funding, assuming that she truly is a private-business owner, then she has every right to discriminate against who she serves. But it should be noted that she was seeking to prevent me from keeping the Aspen community safe.”

Lee and Flanagan said their testing business is strictly private and hasn’t received any public dollars at the local, state or federal levels. Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock confirmed Aspen COVID Testing receives no local or state funding.

“We feel unbelievably good about what we do,” Flanagan said. “We do not discriminate, and we do not pick and choose who we do and don’t test. Our patients come from every walk of life and every political affiliation.”

Owens, however, said the letter sent the message that keeping the community safe is tied to politics.

“And in this particular regard, irrespective of what you think about my stance on vaccinations, I’m following COVID measures in Aspen,” she said. “I’m following COVID measures when I go to venues, when I go to events. I’m listening to what people want done. So if her goal is to keep the Aspen community safe … shouldn’t you say this a good thing that unvaccinated people are at least being responsible to make sure that they’re not spreading the virus?”

Lee said she was immersed all day in “crisis management.” She had to hire extra phone operators to field calls from people upset with her decision.

“It’s been horrible,” she said. “My inbox has been inundated with nasty, horrible messages.”

She said had to contact police because she was feeling threatened.

Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said there “an active investigation going on” but he declined to go into specifics.

“I can say our No. 1 concern is overall public safety, so we are just being attentive to what’s going on over there,” he said. “We have a case number and we are actively keeping an eye on the developments in that situation.”

Owens said she regularly gets tested because she travels often, but her experience in Aspen was a first.

“Never,” she said. “I’ve been tested from Croatia to London. This has never happened. Ever. Actually, you would think health care would be free from politics. And actually what’s she doing is actually giving us fire and fuel, and when I say ‘us,’ I’m talking about us who feel that this virus has been politicized. You’re proving that it’s politicized. … This should have been, ‘OK, I hate you, Candace, but I’m glad you are at least doing the right thing and making sure that your are keeping the community and ensuring you don’t have COVID.’“

Last week, Owens posted on Twitter: “If you do not understand that there is something purely evil involved right now in terms of these vaccines you will never understand. It will NEVER enter my arm.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Republican who represents Aspen as part of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, also chimed in Thursday morning tweeting: “It’s a shame to see this in Colorado in this day and age. Denying Candace a COVID test because she’s a conservative? The Left just goes lower and lower every single day.”

Lee had plenty of supporters on social media. Among the accolades were:

— “Just beautiful. I nominate Suzanna Lee for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

— “Suzanna Lee is an American hero.”

— “Oh wow, this is fabulous. Go Suzanna Lee!!! Amen, girl! Your business, your choice! Candace — head to the kiosk in the alley for your test Face with tears of joy you guys seem to think you’re above the ‘actions have consequences’ rule, you’re not… at all…”

— “Well, well, well. So now the lady that called Covid a scam and basically ridiculed the entire safely protocols, got shut down for a covid test by a private owned lab run by Suzanna Lee.”

— “Aspen is cheering on Suzanna Lee!”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Glenwood Springs River Park, pedestrian bridge into Two Rivers Park closed

The city of Glenwood Springs announced the temporary closure of River Park and the pedestrian bridge crossing from River Trail into Two Rivers Park on Thursday night.

“Out of an abundance of caution due to effects from debris flows into the Colorado River, the City of Glenwood Springs has enacted safety closures for the Glenwood Springs River Park at Midland and Devereux and the pedestrian bridge crossing the Colorado River from the River Trail to Two Rivers Park. Debris flows have occurred in several sections of Glenwood Canyon. No estimated time for reopening. Updates will be sent as they become available.”

Sylvan Fire at 19% containment Monday morning; weather should help firefighters this week

The Sylvan Fire, which started June 20, in Eagle County has reached 19% containment and remains at 3,775 acres as of Monday morning, according to Incident Commander Dan Dallas.

“The weather this week should favor continued progress on fireline construction and preparation for future burning operations,” Dallas said in a Monday morning update. “A few new crews have arrived, and two additional hotshot crews are expected soon. This will help with completing some of the more difficult portions of the fireline.”

Crews have completed a direct fireline from Sylvan Lake westward to the powerline road. South of Sylvan Lake, firefighters are prepping the primary containment line along the moist, grassy stream bottom parallel to the Eagle-Thomasville Road.

Crews are also working to contain the portion of the fire that moved south of the Mount Thomas Trail and ridgeline. Once they have completed this section, they will then clear an indirect fireline extending westward along Mount Thomas Trail as a contingency against southward spread of the fire in the steep, inaccessible portions that are unsafe for crews to work in.

Dallas said the favorable weather over the weekend and more moisture on the way is helping moderate the situation.

“Rain received in recent days will continue to keep fuels moist while moderating fire behavior. Fire spread will be limited and consisting mostly of smoldering and creeping,” Dallas said.

Though lightning is suspected as cause of the fire, the incident is still under investigation.

For the latest information about pre-evacuation or evacuation notices or fire restrictions on non-Federal lands, visit www.ecemergency.org. Officials are also reminding the public that wildfires are a No Drone Zone, and if you fly, they can’t.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Coroner identifies deceased Crystal River kayaker as Chason P. Russell

Chason P. Russell, a 41-year old Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer, has been identified as the kayaker who died on the Crystal River last week, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.

Russell drowned after his kayak overturned and he was released from the vessel while navigating the difficult “Meatgrinder” section of the river just north of Redstone on Thursday, according to the news release Sunday morning.

He was kayaking with two others when he went missing; Russell was pulled under the water around 8 p.m. that night and not seen again, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said last week.

The Roaring Fork Valley man was missing for nearly two days before search crews recovered his body around 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the area he was last seen. Crews spent all day Friday and much of Saturday on the search, which was complicated by high water levels in that section of the river.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

UPDATE: Midland Avenue south of 27th Street reopens one lane to alternating traffic

Update 12:24 p.m.: Midland Avenue has reopened to alternating, one-lane traffic after a gas line leak was successfully clamped, according to the Glenwood Springs Fire Department Facebook page.

Original story:

Midland Avenue is closed south of the 27th Street roundabout due to a gas leak in the area, according to the Glenwood Springs Police Department Facebook page.

There is no estimated time of reopening.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more details.

Joyce Rankin wins state Board of Education race

Incumbent Joyce Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, has won her bid for reelection over challenger Mayling Simpson, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, in the 3rd Congressional District race for the Colorado State Board of Education.

Rankin had captured 54.6% of the vote, while Simpson earned 45.3% in the latest tallies reported to the Colorado Secretary of State Wednesday morning.

Rankin had the edge in her home county of Garfield, 52.6% (14,755 votes) to 47.4% (13,280) for Simpson.

Simpson offered a concession statement Tuesday night.

“It was an honor and a privilege to run for the state board of education for CD3,” she said. “It was a team effort, and we did really well.”

At the Routt County Democrats virtual watch party, Simpson expressed gratitude for everyone who supported her.

“To say it was heartwarming is an understatement,” Simpson said. “It made my heart swell to see how supportive people were. I’m delighted with how well I did.”

Rankin said Tuesday night that she would wait until the results were further along to comment, and that she was more focused on her husband’s much closer race in state Senate District 8.

Rankin’s husband, Bob Rankin, is running for reelection for the Colorado State Senate in District 8 and currently has a slight lead over his Democrat opponent Karl Hanlon.

Joyce Rankin also commended Simpson for her hard work and for a civil campaign.

The 3rd Congressional District is located in the western and southern region of the state, and includes Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Jackson, La Plata, Lake, Mesa, Mineral, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Pueblo, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande, Routt, Saguache, San Juan, and San Miguel counties. It also includes a portion of Eagle County.

Rankin, 73, has held the seat since being appointed in August 2015 and is seeking a second term. Board members serve six-year terms.

Rankin taught elementary and middle school and served as an elementary principal. She has a master’s degree in elementary education with an administrative credential.

Simpson, 74, was elected to the Steamboat Springs Board of Education in 2017. She retired in 2019 when her husband accepted a position at the Virginia Military Institute.

Simpson has a doctorate in anthropology and also worked as a teacher at the high school and college level.

She spent most of her 40-year career abroad, living in eight different countries and working in public health and humanitarian assistance.

Simpson served as an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and was senior environmental health advisor at the World Health Organization.

Her priority as a candidate for the state board was to be a voice for rural districts, as well as improving funding for schools and teacher salaries, raising graduation rates and expanding vocational training. She was also focused on ensuring the voices of teachers were heard at the state level.

Rankin’s priorities have focused on reading and improving reading instruction, specifically work being done through the READ — Reading to Ensure Academic Development — Act.

The READ Act requires benchmark testing of students in preschool through third grade to assess literacy skills, focused on the goal that all students will be reading by third grade.

Rankin also spoke about the opportunity the pandemic brought in terms of improving online education.

While a school district’s decisions are primarily made at a local level, the state board has been providing support for schools during the pandemic.

The board also holds schools accountable for poor performance and handles other administrative functions, including appointing the commissioner of education.

One of the primary divisions between the two candidates was in allowing taxpayer dollars to fund private schools through a voucher system. Simpson took a strong position against pulling away any funding from public schools to give to private schools.

Rankin supports the voucher system and allowing private education companies to step in to manage school districts that are failing.

These results are preliminary and not official.

This story will be updated.

UPDATE: Mike Samson solidifies win over Leslie Robinson in Garfield County Commission race

With the fourth unofficial election results now in, District 3 Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson has solidified his win against Democratic challenger Leslie Robinson.

Samson’s 14,478 votes over Robinson’s 13,656 hoisted the Republican candidate to an unsurpassable 2.92% lead.

With the win, Samson will serve his fourth term on the county commission.

“I feel really good about the issues that I brought up,” Robinson told the Post Independent just before noon Wednesday. “I very much enjoyed working with Beatriz (Soto) as my campaign partner and we’re both community activists, so we’re not going to be going anywhere.”

Looking back at her campaign trail, Robinson said she was shocked to see how much racism there still is in western Garfield County.

“We got feedback from business owners that their children in the high school are ridiculed and bullied,” she said. There’s a problem with the school system with a racial imbalance… It has something to do with students amplifying their parents’ beliefs.”

Despite the impending loss, Robinson said she’ll continue to fight for Garfield County residents.

After several attempts, the Citizen Telegram was unable to reach Samson for comment.

rerku@citizentelegram.com

Get your 2020 election results here for Garfield County and Colorado

Perry Will wins Colorado House District 57 seat against Democratic challenger Colin Wilhelm

Colorado House District 57 representative Perry Will was reelected this week by double-digits over Democratic challenger Colin Wilhelm.

Will cemented his win with 11.66% of the vote. He will now serve his first full term in the legislature, after being appointed to the seat in 2019.

Wilhelm told the Post Independent that he was proud of this year’s campaign for bringing awareness to mental healthcare.

“I think we ran a very good campaign,” he said. “We left everything out on the field.”

So far during his short time as a representative of Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, Will has focused his attention primarily on reducing health care costs for Western Slope residents. For example, over the past year he supported legislation that would make it easier for people to enroll in insurance. In addition, he’s also supported a bill that would cover collateral cancer screenings at a younger age.

Still in the infancy of his political career, Will served as a for the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife for 43 years before his congressional appointment in 2019. The New Castle Republican was appointed following Bob Rankin’s selection to fill the Senate District 8 seat in 2019.

More recently, Will has been a strong proponent of localizing government in the fight against COVID-19. 

Will was unavailable for comment.

rerku@postindependent.com

Glenwood, Carbondale fire district ballot issues heading toward passage

Three local fire district issues were heading toward passage in unofficial results as of 9:29 p.m. Tuesday, though with the apparent repeal of the Gallagher Amendment statewide they become moot.

Glenwood Springs 2A is for emergency medical services within city limits, while 6A is for the Glenwood Springs Rural Fire Protection District, outside of city limits. Issue 7B is for the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

Carbondale fire chief Rob Goodwin was happy with the apparent passage of 7B, which was passing 4,500-1,556, showing that residents would have supported the fire district even under Gallagher restrictions.

“We’re very happy with that. It looks like it’s going to pass by a great margin. We’re grateful for the support from people in our district. We’ll be able to have a stable funding source,” he said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes acknowledged that the issues will not be necessary with the repeal of Gallagher but was pleased that voters supported fire and emergency services.

“I’m grateful to the voters, and I’m grateful to [Glenwood fire chief] Gary [Tillotson],” he said.

The three issues were about de-Gallagherizing and had similar ballot language. All were designed to give residents the chance to establish a minimum level of funding for fire and emergency services.

When Glenwood’s City Council voted to put its EMS issue on the ballot, city attorney Karl Hanlon gave an overview of the effect the Gallagher Amendment has on property tax. 

Revenues from residential properties cannot exceed 45% of the total collected revenues, leaving the remaining 55% to come from non-residential property. 

The nonresidential rate is fixed at 29% of assessed value, meaning that as residential property values rise, the residential assessment rate must drop to accommodate the 45/55 split required by Gallagher. It is currently about 7%, Hanlon said.

This becomes a problem locally because the ratio is calculated statewide. When home values increase more rapidly in the Front Range, the residential assessment rate drops statewide. When local property values increase less than the state average, less property tax revenues are collected locally, according to a Colorado Sun article.

The ballot issues would de-Gallagherize the communities’ mill levies for fire and emergency services, meaning the revenue stream can be maintained at current levels despite falling tax revenues otherwise caused by the Gallagher Amendment. 

“It guarantees that minimum revenue,” Hanlon said. Collections will not go below the amount they are currently, but they will rise if the residential assessment rate rises, he said. 

The Gallagher Amendment itself is on the ballot. If Amendment B passes and repeals Gallagher, it would for the most part make these local issues unnecessary. Early results show the Gallagher Amendment heading for repeal 57.6% to 42.4%.

“If the Gallagher Amendment is repealed it still leaves open the possibility that the Legislature could lower the residential assessment rate resulting in lowered revenues that 2A and 6A are designed to stabilize.  More than likely that won’t occur, which effectively renders them moot,” Hanlon said Tuesday in an email.

cwertheim@postindependent.com