From every indication, Colorado officials were caught flat-footed by the May 13 announcement from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people can skip masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings.
The new CDC guidance contradicts many, if not most, of Colorado's current regulations, yet those rules remain online, and neither the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment nor the office of Governor Jared Polis has issued a formal release rescinding them.
The CDC's announcement was first shared in a tweet published at 12:35 p.m. MDT on May 13. It reads, in part: "If you are fully vaccinated against #COVID19, you can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, incl. local business and workplace guidance."
Shortly after that news broke, Westword sent the state health department media office a series of questions about the federal pivot. "Did the CDPHE have any heads-up about the new CDC mask guidance? If so, how much? If not, would officials with the department have appreciated more advance warning?"
In response, we received this extremely political answer/non-answer: "We are in regular communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and appreciate that partnership."
Our response: "The new CDC guidance seems to contradict a lot of the Colorado rules regarding facial coverings, particularly when it comes to indoor settings with ten or more people. Will businesses that want to allow people to go unmasked in such settings still need to get proof of vaccination from at least 80 percent of those present before doing so? Will that regulation be waived? Or is the department in the process of determining what the process will be like in the future?"
To that, the CDPHE replied, "We are currently reviewing the updated guidance from the CDC and evaluating its impact on Colorado’s statewide mask order."
Shortly after Polis revealed that updated mask order on May 2, we'd asked the CDPHE if businesses could use the honor system regarding the question of whether customers are vaccinated — and the department responded, in unequivocal terms, that they should not. But now, since the honor system seems to be the CDC's go-to position on the subject, we inquired: "Has the approach shifted owing to the new CDC guidance?"
The department response: "We will evaluate the new guidance and determine our best steps forward."
After that, we requested the latest data regarding the percentage of Colorado's total population, including children, that is now fully vaccinated.
It's unclear if the reply we received actually provides figures for the total population or only for Coloradans currently eligible to receive shots — a group that now includes those between twelve and fifteen. But for what it's worth, here's the response: "Our calculations showed us close to 49 percent fully vaccinated yesterday, but with the addition of the estimated 300,000 eligible 12-15 year olds to the total eligible population, our percent fully vaccinated changed a little bit and now today is showing 47 percent."
In other words, at least 53 percent of eligible Colorado residents are not fully vaccinated.
"With so many Coloradans still unvaccinated, is the department concerned that the public will be confused by the new CDC guidance, with many people potentially deciding that with the changes in mask rules, they no longer have to wear facial coverings even if they haven't been vaccinated?" we wondered. "On the other hand, do department officials hope that more people will now choose to be vaccinated so they can go unmasked in most settings?"
"We want all eligible Coloradans to get vaccinated," the CDPHE maintained. "It’s the fastest way for us to return to the lives we love. Anyone who has not completed their vaccination series should continue to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently, practice physical distancing and limit social gatherings."
The CDPHE added: "Colorado county-level data shows a clear correlation between high vaccination rates and low infection rates. We’re starting to see population-level protection from these vaccines resulting in decreased transmission, but we still have a ways to go. Anyone who has not completed their vaccination series should continue to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently, practice physical distancing and limit social gatherings."
Our initial May 13 exchange with the CDPHE ended there — but shortly after 5 p.m., another departmental spokesperson sent another email note: "We will be updating our mask order to follow CDC guidance shortly." We responded by asking if the new order would be arriving that evening, but twelve hours later, we still have gotten no reply.
Right now, the May 2 order is the most recent available on the CDPHE site. Click here to read it, before it's totally obsolete.