Denver Metro Mask-and-Vax Mandate and Who's to Blame

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during the November 23 press conference about the new mask-and-vax orders in the greater metro area.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during the November 23 press conference about the new mask-and-vax orders in the greater metro area.
During a November 23 press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock and public-health officials representing several metro area counties (with the glaring exception of Douglas County) announced what was shorthanded as a mask-and-vax mandate to fight COVID-19. The rule, which will go into effect November 24 in Denver, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties, calls for face coverings to be worn in public indoor settings unless the business or venue in question has made arrangements with their particular county to check a patron's vaccine status before allowing entry.

Hancock and his guests — Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald, Jefferson County Public Health Director Dr. Dawn Comstock, Tri-County Public Health Executive Director Dr. John Douglas, Boulder County Public Health Deputy Director Dr. Lexi Nolen and Denver Health CEO Dr. Robin Wittenstein — stressed that such a move would be unnecessary if approximately 20 to 25 percent of the public (not counting newly eligible kids between the ages of five and eleven) hadn't made the decision to forgo vaccinations. But Hancock, McDonald, Comstock and Wittenstein all specifically pointed to the absence of a statewide edict regarding vaccinations and masking as a major reason that the counties had decided to act.

As Comstock put it, "When there are no state orders to protect the people of Colorado, it becomes crucial for us to work together to have orders that are consistent and uniform wherever possible to create a safer area."

McDonald used particularly blunt language to rip those who don't have a medical reason to skip inoculations but have chosen to do so anyway. "I've heard all the reasons why people don't want to get vaccinated," he said before citing individuals who feel they have a good immune system, believe it's their choice, or object in a general way to mandates or vaccine passports. But, he added, "we have about 1,200 people who said those things that are now reaching out for help in our hospital system because they're having trouble breathing."

Comstock highlighted what she characterized as a "heartbreaking statistic": More than 1,000 people in Jefferson County have now died from COVID-19. "That's almost two of our neighbors, on average, dying every single day," she pointed out. "That is unacceptable."

Wittenstein painted a bleak portrait of a health-care system on the brink of collapse, with individuals who've put off treatment for other conditions over the course of the pandemic now requiring immediate assistance because they've grown sicker. She concluded her remarks with this: "My fear is that it could be any one of us who would walk into a hospital and need help and find that the system designed to be there in our time of need is not able to provide help."

Tri-County's Douglas, meanwhile, conceded that in his jurisdiction, mask requirements and vaccine passports represent a "controversial and unpopular measure." But he stressed that this mask-and-vax step must be taken to prevent hospital capacity from being exceeded over the holidays.

The counties' measures are generally scheduled to remain in place through at least January 3, but they can be extended should conditions require it.

At the end of the introductory section, journalists got a chance to ask questions, and several seemed doubtful that the mask-and-vax mandate would accomplish much, given how their implementation will largely depend on voluntary compliance by business owners and customers alike. (Enforcement options are available, but only if so-called "educational" efforts don't accomplish their goals.) McDonald expressed confidence that most folks will make the right choices, though he conceded that "a little non-compliance goes a long way" in aiding the spread of the virus.

Which is now spiking for its second Christmas season.