Routt County extends face mask requirement, allows exception for exercise |

Routt County extends face mask requirement, allows exception for exercise

Sam Groeschel works out in the fitness area at Old Town Hot Springs. The downtown pool and fitness center has made a number of changes to protect the safety and health of members and employees including heightened cleaning and disinfection measures, clearly marked traffic flow patterns and a limit on the number of people admitted to an area at any given time. While patrons have been required to wear a face mask while working out, an amended public health order allows people to take off their masks while exercising.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday extended a local health order requiring face masks but added an amendment that provides some notable exceptions. 

The order has been extended through the end of July, with further changes possible depending on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the new order reads, employees and customers must wear masks at all businesses within the county, from grocery stores to retail establishments “unless the nature of the business requires the removal of the face covering,” such as at a barber shop or salon. Another exception allows people to remove their masks while “actively engaged in physical exercise” as long as they maintain 6 feet of distance from others and follow other mitigation protocols. 

People do not have to wear masks outdoors.

The amendment came following discussion over the feasibility of wearing a mask while working out, particularly at indoor facilities like Old Town Hot Springs. While some have complained masks make it difficult to breathe while exercising, others say it is an important measure to prevent the spread of disease and protect vulnerable populations.

As Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington noted, gyms are among the most high-risk areas for disease spread. Some studies suggest the 6-foot social distancing requirement might not be adequate for more intensive exercise, during which people’s saliva can travel as much as 65 feet, according to research from Belgium

Harrington took a trip to the gym to see for himself how difficult the mask made his workout. While he did not perform aerobic exercise, he said he could lift weights without a problem.

“I think most people can get by and are getting by wearing a mask while exercising,” Harrington said.

Face mask 101
  • Face masks are required inside local businesses.
  • People may remove face masks if necessary for the nature of the business, such at barber shops or salons.
  • People must wear face masks while at the gym but may remove it while actively exercising and maintaining a 6-foot social distance.
  • People must wear face masks while entering and leaving restaurants but may remove them when seated.
  • Face masks are not required outdoors.
  • People must continue to follow all other health guidelines.

Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who frequented the gym before the pandemic, disagreed with the idea that masks do not hamper one’s ability to exercise, particularly during aerobic activities that require more intense breathing.

“I don’t see how I would have an effective workout wearing a mask,” Corrigan said.

While he admits the amendment comes with some risk, Corrigan voiced his support for carving out the mask exemption. His two fellow commissioners agreed with the exemption but reaffirmed the importance of wearing face masks otherwise while at local businesses. 

Commissioner Beth Melton pointed to the county’s relatively low case count — 63 cases have been confirmed during the course of the pandemic, or about 0.2% of the state’s total caseload — as proof of the efficacy of the mask requirement.

“It’s clearly working, because our disease prevalence is so low. I want it to stay that way,” Melton said.

The mask mandate has been in place since April 10, along with other protective measures that require businesses to have mitigation protocols in place to ensure employees and customers follow health guidelines. Failing to have or follow a mitigation protocol could be grounds for the county to close a business, according to the order. The county’s Environmental Health Department conducts routine inspections of local businesses to ensure they are complying with the order, among other guidelines.

Commissioner Doug Monger said the mask mandate continues to be a source of controversy, with smaller communities in the county, from Yampa to Hayden, arguing they do not carry the same level of risk to justify such strict rules. As Monger pointed out, some residents have opted to shop in neighboring counties where masks are not a requirement.

Corrigan acknowledged the smaller communities likely are at less risk of seeing a resurgence of the virus but said the mask requirement does not pose such a burden on people as to make exceptions for certain parts of the county. 

On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis plans to give updates on the statewide recovery plan, including the timeline for the next protect-our-neighbors phase, set to take effect in late June or early July. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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