Since April 3, when Governor Jared Polis urged all Coloradans to wear masks whenever they leave the home amid the COVID-19 crisis, we've been keeping an eye on those who do and don't follow this advice.
Two-plus weeks later, plenty of millennials continue to balk at donning face coverings, but the amount of buy-in among other groups has definitely increased in most parts of the greater metro area. In Boulder on April 19, at least 50 percent of the folks we saw out and about on the eerily quiet University of Colorado campus and the Pearl Street Mall were wearing masks — and that number ranged across all ages and demographics.
But there are exceptions. A Saturday, April 18, trip to Castle Pines suggested that residents of this extremely affluent area south of Denver think that huge piles of money will keep the virus at bay. Of the 75 or so individuals we saw walking, riding and recreating in neighborhoods there, no one was wearing a mask. Not. A. Single. One.
Moreover, a worrisome number of the people spotted in Castle Pines and nearby Daniels Park were also ignoring social distancing. During the hour or so we spent on trails in the park, we saw over 200 people, but only thirteen wore masks, and most didn't seem to care if they were six feet away from those around them. And at least twenty or thirty cyclists zipped back and forth through the park during our time there, but only a couple wore masks.
Along the avenues of Castle Pines, neighbors chatted in close proximity, as if the novel coronavirus had never existed. A couple of women wore bandannas knotted around their neck, but they remained under their chin like a fashion accessory — pandemic chic — rather than a tool intended to prevent asymptomatic people from unwittingly passing the infection to others. A number of people also passed by each other on the same side of the street, rather than crossing to allow extra space between them and others.
The situation was much the same at Daniels Park. Of course, this attraction isn't exclusively used by Castle Pines residents, and there's no way to know how many people from outside the area were visiting on April 18. But there was no mistaking the lack of social distancing: When people walked toward us, we had to move off the trail in order to increase the distance between us. Their body language seemed to say: I'm not going anywhere, so if you buy into this social-distancing crap, you'll have to move, not me.
We tried to greet people as we passed them, but several didn't answer back — most notably a man who responded to our salutations with an angry glare. Perhaps he didn't approve of our janky, homemade face coverings, made following the instructions offered at the Colorado Mask Project website. Or maybe it was the mere concept of masks that unsettled him.
And he was not alone: We also witnessed multiple instances of what appeared to be resentment aimed at mask-wearers, as if those following Polis's recommendation were obviously outsiders who didn't belong in an area where an encumbered nose or mouth was considered to be a violation of an American's fundamental right.
And several times, best practices established by public-health officials gave way to utter obliviousness.
One family chose a picnic table set close to a path to stage a birthday celebration for a child. There were seven people in all, representing multiple generations (including what looked like grandparents), and no one was wearing a mask. Other gaggles of nature-lovers came close to hitting double digits; the state's stay-at-home order limits gatherings to fewer than ten. And at a junction of different trails, three people stopped and had a close-quarters conversation that effectively blocked all of the routes for anyone who cared about social distancing. But most people didn't, slipping past the chatters within a foot or so.
Still, these examples were minor in comparison with what happened in an area where a herd of bison were quietly munching just past a fence. Groups of mask-free people gathered to watch and take photos (see photo at top). At one point, there were as many as 25 animal lovers in this smallish spot, walking in and among each other without any apparent concern for the safety of themselves or others.
There were a few exceptions, though. One young family included a mom and three kids, all masked; the only exception was Dad, a macho type who seemed to think COVID-19 wouldn't dare mess with him.
Unfortunately, he wasn't the only person in the Castle Pines area this past weekend who felt that way, despite reams of evidence to the contrary.