Colorado lifting mask requirement in many public places in counties with lowest case counts

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DENVER – Gov. Jared Polis on Friday extended the statewide mask requirement for another 30 days, but the latest iteration allows counties in Level Green – generally the state’s least populous counties – to lift the requirements in many public places.

The executive order will still require all counties, no matter their level on the state’s COVID response dial, to have mask requirements in place in schools, child care centers, indoor children’s camps, state government facilities, personal services locations like hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors, certain health care settings like hospitals and doctors’ offices, congregate care facilities, prisons and jails.

The mask requirement will still be in place for schools because children under 16 are not yet approved to receive the vaccine, and Colorado wants to keep as many students learning in-person for the rest of the schoolyear.

Additionally, masks will be required in public indoor settings where 10 or more unvaccinated people or people with unknown vaccination statuses are present in counties in Level Blue through Level Purple on the state’s dial.

As of Friday afternoon, 31 counties were in Level Green. People in those counties will be able to remove their masks outside of the aforementioned settings in which they will still need to be worn.

The state said that there are about 238,000 people living in those 31 counties currently in Level Green. There are about 5.5 million people living in counties in levels Blue through Purple, meaning the vast majority of the state’s population will have to continue wearing face coverings for the time being.

The mask requirements do not apply to children age 10 and younger. Local municipalities may also implement stronger mask requirements, according to the executive order.

Gov. Polis had said at his previous news conference on Monday that he was considering extending the mask mandate, which was set to expire on Saturday, for two weeks before handing over control to local governments, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment hinted Thursday that Friday’s 30-day extension would be forthcoming.

The state says the modifications to the mandate are being made because more Coloradans continue to receive doses of the vaccines. As of Thursday, more than 1 million Coloradans were fully vaccinated, and the state opened up vaccine eligibility for everyone over age 16 starting Friday.

“Here in Colorado we are making incredible progress with getting vaccines into arms and protecting our most vulnerable, but until everyone can get the vaccine and our COVID cases are reduced, taking precautions to prevent a surge in cases and further spread of the disease is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do and helps keep everything open,” Polis said in a statement.

President Joe Biden and CDC officials have criticized states that have fully lifted their mask requirements.

Colorado’s case counts and hospitalizations have plateaued in recent weeks as well, causing some concern among public health officials about loosening restrictions too quickly as case numbers rise sharply in some other states and as the virus mutates into more infectious variants.

And even in small counties, like Custer County, which lifted its restrictions but has since seen an uptick in COVID cases, even among the county board of health and county commissioners, officials have said that people should not led their guard down against the virus.

The state is still pushing people to wear masks in indoor settings and around others, and businesses will be able to make their own rules when it comes to masks, along with the local municipalities.

“By continuing to wear our masks in public indoor settings around others, we can safely enjoy the activities we love and keep our economy open. Every community has been impacted differently by this pandemic, and we want to ensure this order is reflective of that,” Polis said Friday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Thursday that the city would require masks at least into early May, and likely longer. Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said the city will likely keep indoor capacity limits in place to some extent for the foreseeable future as well.

Making the jump from current Level Yellow restrictions to no restrictions and no masks “would be a mistake,” McDonald said.

Colorado says 1 in 207 people are currently still contagious with COVID-19 in the state and said that mask-wearing and social distancing should especially continue for people who are not yet vaccinated. Three-hundred-eighty-two confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Thursday.

“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, 35 cases or less out of every 100,000, and the great achievement they have made towards ending the pandemic,” Polis said.