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COVID-19: Inside Colorado's Toughest Mask Rules

Mask rules differ in Boulder at the city and county levels.
Mask rules differ in Boulder at the city and county levels.

As assorted municipalities in the metro area end their stay-at-home orders on May 8, joining the rest of Colorado under Governor Jared Polis's safer-at-home program, most have instituted rules about face coverings that concentrate on requiring them at indoor locations, such as grocery stores. Even Denver, which put new mask measures in place on May 6, has surrendered when it comes to doing anything more than encouraging people to deploy masks while walking in their neighborhood or visiting parks.

But Boulder County has taken a different tack, approving an order going into effect on May 9 that is among the most sweeping in the state. It calls for every person older than the age of twelve to wear a face covering when in public anywhere in its jurisdiction where social distancing of six feet cannot be maintained. And county spokesperson Chana Goussetis confirms via email that "this applies inside and outside," as do similar orders in places such as Summit County and Pitkin County.

Moreover, the maximum fine for ignoring this edict is $5,000, dwarfing the $999 top penalty in Denver. Violators in Boulder County could also face up to a year in jail.

The City of Boulder hasn't gone quite this far. Its face-covering order is aimed at people working for or visiting a "public accommodation," defined as "any place of business engaged in any sales to the general public and any place that offers services, facilities, privileges or advantages to the general public."

Boulder County is home to some of the region's best and most beautiful trails and parks, many of which attract large crowds when the weather cooperates — and sometimes when it doesn't. Going mask-free in such locations won't automatically violate the new rules, Goussetis stresses, but she notes that people should have masks with them in case staying six feet or more away from others proves impossible.

"Under the Boulder County order, folks can go to a public park or trail without a face covering, but they should be prepared to use one should it be needed," she writes. "It’s important to note that local jurisdictions, including open space departments within them, may have their own mask requirements, including specific requirements for trails within their jurisdiction."

At the same time, Goussetis makes it clear that citations will not be the first option for authorities: "The focus related to enforcement is on education. So, while a law enforcement or public health official can decide whether or not someone is not following the order, their approach would be to have a conversation with the person."

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She adds: "Face coverings are just one part of a box of tools that we must use to stop the spread of this disease. Social distancing is key, along with all of us staying home as much as possible, and especially if we’re sick. We must also continue doing the basics — washing our hands, covering our cough, cleaning high-touch areas. When used all together, these are the best ways to stop the spread of disease."

The possibility of ponying up five grand or spending a year in the hoosegow for rejecting mask use is consistent with county law, Goussetis stresses: "The penalties and fines for all public health orders are the same and are dictated by statute."

Goussetis concludes: "We hope that we will not need to assess any fines or penalties. However, each situation will need to be considered independently."

Anyone thinking about throwing a giant no-mask party in Boulder County should consider that a warning.

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