JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The Jefferson County Board of Health voted to require masks in all public indoor spaces for everyone age 3 and up regardless of vaccination status.
Businesses can apply to have their facility deemed an approved fully vaccinated facility where masks would not be required if received.
The board discussed how to mitigate the current surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in a meeting that lasted most of Monday.
Several people who signed up to speak at Monday’s meeting expressed concern over how businesses will enforce the order, saying it could put their safety in jeopardy.
Rufus Nagel, owner of Molly’s Spirits dealt with a customer disgruntled over mask mandates in 2020. He said that was an isolated incident and is not a primary concern this time around.
“Our bigger issue for us is our workers. They’re wearing that mask the entire day and it has a bigger impact than our customers. Customers have to wear it as they walk in, take it off as they go out and it’s really not that big of a deal. But it is really difficult, especially for our vaccinated workers to be forced to wear a mask indoors for the duration of their shift,” said Nagel.
Nagel said they want to see consistency in the orders across counties to avoid any confusion for customers coming in.
President of Occasions Catering Jeremy Bronson said there seems to be a unified approach across health departments.
“There’s no doubt that requiring masks will put a little bit of a damper on some peoples’ plans for holiday gatherings. With all of us looking forward to the holidays in our industry, it’s a disappointment to see that happen,” said Bronson.
Previous to the mandate, Jefferson County required masks for everyone age 2 and older in schools and county government buildings. It also requires county employees to be vaccinated or test for COVID regularly.
Within the last week, both Jefferson County Public Health and the board have asked Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to order a statewide mask mandate.
Recently, both have advised people to wear a mask indoors and stress vaccinations.
The county has not received a response from either, said Greg Deranleau, Board of Health President.
“The trends don’t look good right now,” Deranleau said. “If you look at the data, we’re in a huge surge that’s not showing that sign of turning.”
Currently, 1,535 people are in Colorado hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 cases — the most since Dec. 11, 2020.
Also, Jefferson County reports 20 people with COVID died the week of Oct. 31 — the most this year.
Jeffco among highest vaccination rates
Despite the trends, the county has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Nearly 85% of eligible people who live there have received at least one vaccination shot. Statewide, almost 81% of eligible people have at least one vaccine dose.
One of the many arguments against another mask mandate points to Florida and other states. Their COVID surges recently declined with no mask orders and lower vaccination rates than Colorado.
In Denver, nearly 89% of eligible people have at least one vaccine shot, yet hospitals are still being inundated with COVID and other patients. They come from the metro and other areas of the state where vaccination rates are significantly lower.
Is Denver mask mandate possible?
That’s why the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment is also asking for a statewide mask mandate.
Executive Director Bob McDonald did not say if the department and mayor would imminently issue one if the state did not.
“I think when you look at the history of this pandemic, the mayor here in Denver and this department, we’ve stepped out many times when we needed to, even when other counties did not move in that direction,” McDonald said Thursday. “So, we will do what we need to do. But we’re at that point right now, where we’re encouraging a more statewide or regional approach.”
McDonald called the mask mandate a short-term strategy to slow the surge. In the long run, he said vaccinations are the key, along with monoclonal antibody treatments and potential new drugs to treat COVID-19 that are currently awaiting federal approval.