Polis lifts mask mandate for some counties; still requires masks for 95% of Coloradans
Routt County has a local public health order that requires masks for everyone above the age of 2 in public settings that would supersede the new state order.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Masks are no longer required in most public settings in almost half of Colorado counties, a move Gov. Jared Polis is calling a “light at the end of the tunnel” that is the pandemic.
For the 31 counties in the state at level green on the dial framework, masks are only required in schools, child care settings, long-term care facilities and personal services, like hair and nail salons. For everyone else above level green — including Routt County — the mask order stays largely the same.
While almost half of all counties, the change affects just under 240,000 people, meaning about 95% of the state’s population is still living under masking requirements.
“This modified mask order is a step towards the light at the end of the tunnel, and it acknowledges a transition away from most requirements for those counties in level green with very low transmission,” Polis said in a statement Friday.
To be in level green, counties need to have less than 35 cases per 100,000 residents in a one-week period and have a test positivity rate below 5%. Routt County would need to see nine or fewer cases in a one-week period to be in level green.
In the most recent week, the county recorded 35 new cases of COVID-19, putting the county at level yellow on the dial. To get to level blue, the county would need to see 25 or fewer cases in a week. The positivity rate in the county is at 3.7%.
Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the county is a long way off from being in level green metrics when it comes to case counts, and it wouldn’t make sense to be talking about reducing a mask order locally right now. If able to approach level green numbers, Corrigan said, lifting masking requirements is more palatable.
Guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment still encourages all Coloradans to wear a mask when interacting with people outside their household, especially if that contact is indoors.
The only change in level blue and up counties is that the new mask order allows as many as 10 unvaccinated people to gather in an indoor public space without masks regardless of where a county is at on the dial. Guidance for the new mask order says businesses and other public establishments should assume people are unvaccinated unless they know otherwise.
This won’t actually change anything in Routt County, though, as the local public health order requires masks for all people older than the age of 2 in public spaces. This is set to expire April 30.
Counties home to ski resorts have lobbied to keep some kind of mask mandate in place from the state level through the end of the ski season, Corrigan said, and the extension of the new order until May 2 is after most resorts plan to close.
Still, Corrigan said he agrees with Polis’ decision and understands how counties in level green may be antsy to lift masking requirements.
Colorado’s move to reduce mask mandates come after President Joe Biden pleaded with states to keep or reinstate mask mandates last week and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director warned of “impending doom” if Americans let their guards down too quickly.
At least 18 states have done away with masking requirements all together, including nearby Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona, according to a New York Times review of state regulations.
Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said state modeling has shown that if all restrictions were lifted, there would likely be a pretty stark increase in cases by June. If some measures, like mask wearing, were kept in place for another month, cases would still rise slightly, but it would not be as dramatic.
“I don’t feel that the sky is falling; I just think that we still have another month of uncertainty. If a lot of the variables go in the worst possible way, we could get into a bad spot,” Harrington said. “But I think the chance of that happening is relatively low.”
The goal is to get to a point where there is more supply than demand for the vaccine, Harrington said. State officials have said vaccine availability should get there by the end of May.
The intention from a state level is to let the mask mandate go away entirely around the beginning of May, Corrigan and Harrington said. At that point, the dial would become guidance to counties and not a mandated order. Even if the dial were to become guidance, Corrigan said he still feels what few restrictions are in place at level green are still appropriate.
Local municipalities and businesses can choose to require masks even if the state no longer does in some settings. Harrington said he feels the mandate did matter, adding that places with mandates generally had higher rates of mask wearing and lower rates of spread of the virus.
The three things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks is case counts, vaccination rates and prevalence of COVID-19 variants, Harrington said.
“If this all goes well, we can get to May, and I would be surprised if the governor continues a mask mandate at that point,” Harrington said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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