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COVID-19: In Conservative Colorado Town, Mask Wearing Gets Worse

Unmasked groups, including multi-generational families, were common during a November 28 visit to the Outlets at Castle Rock.
Unmasked groups, including multi-generational families, were common during a November 28 visit to the Outlets at Castle Rock.
Photo by Michael Roberts
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During a December 1 appearance alongside Governor Jared Polis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease specialist, stressed that following proper safety protocols in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's may be the only way for the state to avoid a catastrophic disease "surge on a surge" — and first on his to-do list was the universal wearing of facial coverings while around others, whether inside or outside.

Convincing Coloradans to improve their efforts in this area won't be easy, however, as demonstrated by a visit to the Town of Castle Rock's popular outlet mall during the annual weekend kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. On that day, mask-wearing in common areas was considerably less common than it had been months earlier, despite the urgency of the current situation.

Castle Rock is on record as objecting to the state's current public-health orders. Last week, the town council approved a resolution that essentially opts out of the Level Red designation on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard for Douglas County, where it's located. The move was largely symbolic, and there's plenty of symbolism on display in Castle Rock these days.

We'd previously visited the Outlets at Castle Rock in July, and back then, we noted that around 10 to 20 percent of patrons "put on a mask to enter stores, then quickly removed it as soon as they split" — and quite a few donning such coverings wore them improperly, keeping their nostrils open to the world. But because the center wasn't busy the afternoon we stopped by, maintaining a physical distance of six feet or more from other shoppers wasn't a problem.

Many groups visiting the Outlets at Castle Rock on November 28 included a mix of mask wearers and those going without a facial covering outside.EXPAND
Many groups visiting the Outlets at Castle Rock on November 28 included a mix of mask wearers and those going without a facial covering outside.
Photos by Michael Roberts

The scenario was very different on Saturday, November 28, the date of our most recent stop. Because the center was bustling with customers, people were regularly in the position of passing each other closely — and while most weren't stopping to chat face to uncovered face with strangers for ten to fifteen minutes (a high-risk infection scenario cited by public-health officials), their proximity definitely raised concerns.

So, too, did the number of customers who ditched their masks as soon as they left stores. Probably three out of ten shoppers did so — roughly double the percentage we observed back in July.

Polis and Fauci, among others, have also warned about the dangers of multi-generational mixing — often relatives from different households, including older individuals who are more susceptible to the disease. Such scenarios happened frequently on November 28, and in those cases, unmasked individuals did indeed stand or sit next to older family members for long periods of time. This included folks who purchased a beverage or a snack, which they appeared to see as giving them license to sit around bare-faced for considerable stretches even when they weren't drinking or eating.

Lines to enter the Outlet at Castle Rock Adidas, North Face and Nike stores on November 28.EXPAND
Lines to enter the Outlet at Castle Rock Adidas, North Face and Nike stores on November 28.
Photos by Michael Roberts

Yes, this activity generally took place outside, which experts say lowers the danger of viral spread considerably, and there's no question that messaging about this has been inconsistent. Early on, mask-wearing outside wasn't a point of emphasis, and now that it's being stressed, many people seem to be tuning out the advice.

Still, stores at the mall were strict about requiring a facial covering for those who entered — and the busiest among them, including the Adidas, Nike and North Face outlets, carefully monitored capacity, leading to long lines. Whether these moves reflected a fear of liability or simple good citizenship, managers at these operations are clearly doing the right thing.

Too bad the same can't be said for many customers.

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