During a March 29 press conference, Governor Jared Polis revealed plans to end the statewide mask order, probably on April 16. The impending move, which would allow county officials to set their own standards or do away with the mandate entirely, was announced at around the same time that President Joe Biden pleaded with states to maintain safety protocols a little bit longer and reinstitute those already relaxed, in order to stave off a possible new wave of infections in places like Colorado, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Another target of Biden's message was Wyoming, which ditched its mask rules on March 16 while loosening restrictions in a slew of other ways.
Wyoming's rejiggered regulations require facial coverings to be worn in child-care settings, schools and universities, and place limitations on some large gatherings — but restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters have been allowed to shift to "normal operations," as if the pandemic were already over.
In anticipation of Polis's action, we traveled to Cheyenne on Saturday, March 27, to get a preview of what life in many Colorado locations could be like in just a few weeks. We found that some mask use continues to exist, particularly at national chain stores that have their own policies apart from those of the states where specific branches are located. But the overwhelming majority of Wyoming residents we saw no longer bothered covering their nose and mouth.
That was particularly true in downtown Cheyenne, where approximately 85 percent of the folks we encountered were mask-free — and those who weren't often didn't seem happy about being asked to put one on.
Granted, Cheyenne doesn't have a reputation as a paragon of mask safety; our headline on a July 2020 post about a trip there during what normally would have been Cheyenne Frontier Days read, "Wyoming Mask Use Is a Joke." And on March 27, social distancing was a snap, since the temperature was in the low forties and a steady (and extremely typical) wind made it seem colder.
Nonetheless, most stores along Lincolnway, one of downtown Cheyenne's main commercial corridors, were staffed by unmasked employees. Only a bare handful of customers wore facial coverings inside them — and outdoor use was even less common.
An exception was Bart's Flea Market, which boasted a sign on the door stressing that masks were still required for entry — and the management meant it.
While we were checking out after making a purchase, a man without a mask tried to come inside, and when he was told he couldn't browse without a face covering, he promptly walked out — either to retrieve a mask from his vehicle or to find a less strict operation to patronize.
At Cheyenne's Frontier Mall, about 50 percent of shoppers were masked — but that's because chain outlets such as Victoria's Secret and Bed Bath & Beyond wouldn't admit anyone without a mask.
Smaller operations or mom-and-pop shops were much more lax in their masking policies, at least for customers. We saw plenty of places where employees wore facial coverings as they waited on groups of people who seemed to feel that masks were yesterday's news.
It was like a glimpse into Colorado's future — for better or for worse.
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