On the eve of Election Day 2020, Governor Jared Polis and officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updated the state's mask rules and guidance for public transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Polis's amended mask order, which codifies an exception to a previous executive order allowing the temporary removal of a face covering by "individuals who are officiating or participating in a life rite or religious service," was issued mere hours after Polis and CDPHE executive director Jill Ryan met with Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who's at the center of a fresh controversy. Earlier on November 2, reports had surfaced about an internal memo in which Birx noted that "we are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic...leading to increasing mortality" — a conclusion that directly contradicts President Donald Trump's repeated assertions during safety protocol-defying campaign rallies that the disease is rapidly fading away.
A statement from Polis about the Birx visit makes it clear that her message to him and Ryan also contradicted Trump's sunny forecast. "Dr. Birx said that we must urgently stop socializing and visiting with people in other households in Colorado for the next few weeks," Polis said in his summary of the visit. "I appreciate Dr. Birx coming to Colorado and meeting with my team and I about the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Birx described what has worked in other states and how Coloradans need to do a better job avoiding socializing and mixing between households while our state continues to rapidly ramp up testing, especially among younger Coloradans in their 20s and 30s who are less likely to have symptoms. I also urge Washington, D.C., to take real, meaningful action and pass an overdue relief package to help our small businesses and hardworking people overcome the unique challenges created by this pandemic."
The CDPHE's newly updated transportation guidance focuses on "agencies or individuals providing public transportation, including rideshares and taxis." Its advice tackles many of the issues detailed in our October 30 post about RTD coronavirus horror stories — unmasked riders, space-invading and more.
To enhance physical distancing and ventilation, providers are encouraged to "limit vehicle capacity to 50 percent of posted seated capacity or occupancy while allowing for at least one seat or row in between individuals from different households. Operators and passengers should ensure six feet of physical distance between non-household groups to the greatest extent possible."
One way of properly spacing passengers is by "cordoning off seats or portions of vehicles or skipping stops when vehicles are at capacity," the CDPHE notes. Likewise, distance between passengers and drivers can be enhanced by "blocking off the first one or two seats immediately behind or beside the driver's seat," "having passengers board through rear doors, if available" and, if not, "having the driver stand outside during boarding."
When possible, taxis and rideshares should "open windows — one on each side of the vehicle — to maximize ventilation," "post signs reminding passengers that physical distancing requirements apply to public transport," and "post signs informing customers they can opt in to the Exposure Notifications service so they may be alerted more quickly in the event they are exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19."
As for passengers, the new guidance now requires those over the age of ten to wear a mask at all times and encourages the use of facial coverings by kids as young as two. People are also urged to "avoid public transit if they are sick, positive for COVID-19, or if they think or know they have been exposed to COVID-19," and "adhere to physical distancing guidelines regarding spacing between passengers."
Additionally, passengers are instructed to "follow guidance from operators and respect that they are critical workers who should be regarded with utmost concern for their health and safety during this challenging time."