JeffCo Public Health director apologizes for comments last week

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Dawn Comstock has apologized following comments she made last week that some felt were not in support of local businesses.

“I truly believe that if you mess up, you need to fess up,” she said Monday morning. “I’m very sorry that what I was trying to say came out wrong and upset those businesses who really have been doing their best this whole time.”

Dr. Comstock made the comments on Tuesday, Dec. 7, as she addressed county commissioners during a COVID-19 briefing.

“I apologize to our Jefferson County businesses, but if you are high-risk, and you absolutely must go inside a public space to shop, consider going to another county with higher vaccination rates and consider going to another county that has higher mask compliance, higher proportions of individuals that are wearing masks. And it kills me to say this.”

As part of that suggestion, Dr. Comstock brought up a shopping experience she had and compared mask-compliance in Longmont, which is in Boulder County, and Lakewood.

“Over the weekend, I was in Longmont. I needed some, a couple of groceries that were not included in my curbside pickup order. I stopped in a Boulder grocery store just on my way because it was convenient. Every single individual in that grocery store was wearing a mask. It shocked me so much I walked around three times just to be sure. Every customer, every employee were wearing masks and wearing them properly. So just as a test, I came home. I live in Lakewood. I went to my local King Soopers. I did one loop around the store and I saw 20 people not wearing masks. So if you are high-risk, absolutely, I want you to support our Jefferson County businesses, but first and foremost, you must protect your life and your health.”

Business owners like Deanne Aichholz, owner of Golden Goods Market, say the suggestion may have done more harm than good.

“I was very disappointed as this is one of our high seasons for our particular store,” she said.

Aicholz has owned the store for nine years. The last two, like for many business owners, have been rough.

“We definitely have not seen the rebound that we’re hoping for,” she said. “I do consider [Dr. Comstock’s] trying to help with a health situation that is currently going on, but also, as a business owner, I do feel that she did us a disservice.”

A comment suggesting certain people avoid shopping in JeffCo stores from the county’s own public health director didn’t sit well with the Golden Chamber of Commerce, either.

“I think that apology is a great place to start in rebuilding that trust again,” said Nola Krajewski, the chamber’s executive director. “However, her words matter. And so I think before she makes recommendations, she really should think that through and weigh the implications of how that will affect our business community.”

Still, Dr. Comstock remains apologetic and is hopeful the strong relationship between her department and the community will withstand her mistake.

“I’m really sorry if any of our businesses felt that I wasn’t there for them last week because of the poor choice of words that I used,” she said.

The Jefferson County Board of Health met Sunday morning for a special meeting as a result of Dr. Comstock’s comments, County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper confirmed. But as the conversation involved personnel matters and happened in executive session, Dr. Comstock could not say whether it was about her employment.