The photo above, which popped up on Twitter over recent days, doesn't exactly scream "COVID-19 safety," but neither is it particularly unique. Despite recommendations by local, state and federal health officials of preventive measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, pics of young people partying without masks or proper distancing have become commonplace on social media platforms these days.
But this one stands out for an important reason: Most of the folks in the frame are employees of Denver7, a television station that has spent months spreading the gospel of responsible behavior during the pandemic. Moreover, it was shared shortly after the studio space used by two other local TV outlets, Fox31 and Channel 2, was declared a COVID-19 outbreak site by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
One more level of irony: Sean Towle, the Denver7 reporter who tweeted the pic, signed up with the station in 2019, after an extended stint at Fox31.
The original caption on the photo: "We're not just news nerds, but nerds of random pop culture. Team #Denver7 winning trivia night. Such a smart and fun group."
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It's also a team whose work routine has been adjusted because of infection concerns, according to Dean Littleton, Denver7's vice president and general manager. "The health and safety of our employees and audiences are our top priority," he says in an email. "For this reason, the vast majority of our employees continue to work remotely. That is the case with each of the employees you see in the picture from trivia night on Tuesday at a local restaurant."
Thus far, the gathering hasn't led to an outbreak at Denver7; the station isn't included on the list of new outbreak sites issued on August 26 by the CDPHE. But the department is still actively investigating the outbreak at Fox31 and Channel 2 after three anchors tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. As word of those tests leaked out, some employees expressed frustration over management's lack of transparency — and indeed, the stations didn't self-report the situation to the viewing public until after the CDPHE made their outbreak status official, a full week after Westword's item on the subject.
Towle didn't offer any comments about the photo when contacted. But Littleton, who said he hadn't seen the snap until it was sent to him by Westword, acknowledges the disconnect between the image and best practices promoted by Denver7.
He notes that while the employees "were out on their own time, we used this as an opportunity to remind them of our rigorous workplace and personal health guidelines regarding COVID-19 for the benefit of our station employees, the partners we do business with and the audiences we serve."