‘Free the Face Day’: Routt County removes mask mandate
Masks are no longer required in most situations in Routt County.
When Lindsy Manceaux first heard the news, she immediately proclaimed Tuesday “Free the Face Day.”
“We all wear these proverbial masks. Everyone wears a mask to be something or somebody,” said Manceaux, who runs Louisiana Lindsy’s in downtown Steamboat Springs. “We’ve been forced to wear these things to cover our faces, and now, we are free of that. It’s nice.”
Shortly after she heard the news, Manceaux was at the bar in The Barley celebrating with Rob Day, general manager at the bar, and Justin Hansen, a local alcohol distributor. None of them needed to remove a mask to take their tequila shot.
“I was worried they weren’t going to do it, but they did it,” Day said. “This is great.”
The Routt County Board of Health rescinded the local public health order, which included the mask mandate, at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, leaving just the state mask order in place.
“There were so many times where it felt like we would never get here, and yet, here we are, and I think we should definitely take a moment to appreciate that,” said Commissioner Beth Melton, who said she got choked up while reading the motion to rescind the local order. “I can’t really express how big of a deal this feels like.”
The state order requires unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated Coloradans age 11 and older to wear a mask in schools, jails, prisons and medical or congregate care settings. There also are still federal mandates in place that require everyone to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and in other public transportation hubs.
“It does not mean that the pandemic is over,” said Roberta Smith, Routt County public health director, who recommended the move. “We still have a lot to do. We still need our community to increase our vaccination rates and make sure that we are protecting our most vulnerable populations.”
Though the government mandate is gone, businesses are still allowed to require masks. Shortly after the news, Ron and Sue Krall, who own Off The Beaten Path bookstore in Steamboat Springs, had a meeting to discuss what they were going to do in their shop.
The decision: Unvaccinated staff will still wear them, but for everyone else, it is their choice.
“Everything that we’ve done during the pandemic has been driven by our recognition that we are part of a community,” Ron said. “I think (making masks optional) is in the interest of our community.”
Masks will be optional at The Barley, too.
“We’re not going to give anybody a hard time and say, ‘Hey, take your mask off,’” Day said, who added all members of his staff are fully vaccinated.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment still recommends students wear masks in school, even if vaccinated. In a meeting Monday Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks indicated that students in Steamboat schools would continue to wear masks for the remaining weeks of the school year.
Cases in the county have dropped to just 12 in the most recent week, and despite an outbreak at two recent events, Smith said she is confident the county is not making this move too soon.
“We have looked at the science and looked at the data to really drive these decisions,” Smith said. “The other things you have been doing, you still need to continue to do those things — wash your hands, cover your cough, if you’re sick stay home.”
Contact tracing and case investigations are not going away, Smith said, as they are part of state law. The department also has the authority to shut down a business if there is an outbreak.
“We don’t need a local public health order to have those tools in our toolbox,” Smith said.
Smith credited much of the progress against COVID-19 to the vaccines and Routt County residents for getting vaccinated at a rate that is among the highest in the state. Still, epidemiologist Fritha Morrison said the county has not reached heard immunity, as just 53% of all residents are fully vaccinated.
“Let’s not do a mask burning, because we may have to revert back to this this fall — hopefully not,” Smith said.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he has heard that people believe they can forgo their shot because so many others are now vaccinated.
“Just because your passenger puts on their seatbelt, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to put your seatbelt on either,” Smith said. “We all need to play our part and provide protection to ourselves by getting vaccinated.”
Several people joined public comment Tuesday to thank commissioners and public health officials for the work they have done since March of last year.
“I am really very proud to be a resident of Routt County,” Judy McGinnis said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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