On Monday, the health councils of Denver’s three counties voted to require nearly everyone to wear masks again in indoor public places, as part of a coordinated action to tackle the alarming COVID-19 trends they were forced. apply without a national mandate.
The regulations require adults and most children in Jefferson, Adams, and Arapaho counties to wear masks in enclosed public areas, including retail stores, restaurants, and gyms, starting Wednesday, although businesses can seek exemptions if they require their employees and customers were vaccinated.
“If the state is reluctant to act, there may be some benefit to citywide efforts to implement mask requirements given our population size and hospitalizations,” said Dr. John Douglas, executive director of the Three County Health Department, which covers Adams and Arapaho counties.
Boulder, Pitkin and Larimer counties already have indoor mask requirements. Typically, municipalities try to harmonize their public health directives.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said the city will announce “some things” on Tuesday related to its COVID-19 strategy, but did not elaborate on what they might be.
Douglas County, which still contracts with District Three to provide routine public health services, has resisted any effort to reinstate mask mandates, including setting up its own public health council.
Jeffco’s 4: 1 public health order will remain in effect until the county’s new COVID-19 cases drop to a certain level. The District Three Ordinance for Adams and Arapaho Counties, passed with a margin of 5: 1, will remain in effect until January 2 and beyond as long as ICU throughput remains low.
“The intent of this order is to slow the spread … so we don’t have unnecessary deaths and so we can keep our hospital’s capabilities safe,” said Jeffco board member Kimberly Krapek.
Cherie Yang, who single-handedly voted against Jeffco’s Health Council, said she disliked the idea of blaming mask bans on a population that she said was increasingly frustrated with the medical order pandemic.
“I think this is putting a lot of pressure on the business,” she said.
Colorado hospital stress
Hospital admissions in Larimer County have dropped by about a third since he fulfilled his mandate to use masks, said Don Comstock, executive director of the Jefferson County Public Health Division. Hospital admissions from neighboring Weld County have not declined, she said, suggesting that masks matter.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 1,565 on Monday afternoon, with 635 general beds and 81 intensive care beds still available. Nearly half of the hospitals reporting to the state – 46% – said they expect staff shortages next week.
In the week ending Sunday, it turned out that there were almost 2,000 fewer new cases of coronavirus than in the previous week. However, this gap is likely to narrow as the delayed reports become available. COVID-19 deaths in Colorado continued to rise last week, reaching levels seen at the worst in April 2020 in the first week of November.
There are some encouraging signs, however, as new cases and test positive rates have dropped in the past few days, said Dr. John Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. But, according to him, it is too early to say whether this is a trend or a random fluctuation in numbers.
There hasn’t been a significant increase in cases since Thanksgiving and hospitalizations last year, which peaked in early December, but it’s unclear if Colorado will follow the same path this year, Samet said.
“It could be different this year because it seems like a lot more people are going to travel,” he said.
The County Three Order for Adams and Arapaho Counties applies to everyone 2 years of age and older, while the Jeffco Order starts at age 3.
Both orders also release people who actively eat or drink in restaurants; who have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks; who relies on lip reading for communication; who perform on a show or conduct a religious service if they are within 12 feet of others; or who is involved in individual sports such as gymnastics if they are 25 feet away from others.
“Not eternal politics”
Jefferson County’s mandate will continue until the county has fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people for three consecutive weeks and less than 8% of COVID-19 tests are positive. At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers transmission to be “moderate” and no longer recommends requiring vaccinated people to wear masks.
As of Monday, Jefferson County had 345.2 cases for every 100,000 people in the previous week, and an average of 10.5% of the tests were positive.
The order for Adams and Arapaho counties will remain in effect until January 2, and then until at least 10% of intensive care beds are available for 14 consecutive days. Adams County and Arapaho County both had 7.5% ICU capacity on Monday, and there were no ICU beds according to County Three.
“This is not eternal politics,” Douglas said. “This is directly related to the current crisis.”
The increase in the number of cases this fall has led to an increase in hospital admissions. The hospital admission rate for Jefferson County compared to its population is about nine times higher than in early July: 2.41 per 100,000 in mid-November, up from 0.26 per 100,000 in the summer.
Jefferson County has already demanded masks in schools, day care centers, and county buildings. People also have to disguise themselves in nursing homes, prisons, and public transportation due to state and federal regulations.
Several municipal health departments, including the Jefferson County Department, sent letters asking Gov. Jared Polis to implement a state-wide mask mandate, but Comstock admitted it was “highly unlikely.” Polis has repeatedly stated that any decisions on masks must be made on the spot.
Public review of masks
Hundreds of people signed up to speak at the Jeffco Health Council’s virtual meeting, although the public comment period was limited to two hours. Many of them were business owners who did not want to be tasked with enforcing the mandate.
Fitness club owners have performed particularly well when requesting exemptions out of fear that their clients would cross the county line or stop exercising altogether.
Parker Brown, a Westminster businessman, said he doesn’t mind the ban on the use of masks, but doesn’t want employees to be held accountable for enforcing it.
“How do I ask my employees to sit and discuss clients when they are 17 years old?” he said.
A significant number of commentators have shared scientifically inaccurate information. A handful compared to allowing businesses to demand a vaccine against racial segregation.
Yang also expressed concern over whether the order would “criminalize” business owners who are uncomfortable with asking clients to wear masks.
“We’re giving them control over people they don’t control,” she said.
Comstock said enforcement will focus on educating and encouraging business owners to comply, and that most of them have learned to live up to a statewide mask mandate last year.
“This is not something that businesses have never done,” she said.