On July 16, in his latest move to limit COVID-19 infections, Governor Jared Polis issued a statewide mask-wearing order requiring everyone over the age of nine to wear a facial covering in public places. During the days that followed, we visited four major shopping complexes across the greater metro area to see if this mandate was making a difference.
What we saw was a classic good news-bad news situation.
The good news: The use of masks was nearly universal at the Castle Rock factory outlets complex, which we visited on July 17, and three area malls — Broomfield's FlatIron Crossing, Town Center at Aurora and the Cherry Creek Shopping Center — that we strolled on July 19. Indeed, among the many hundreds of people we encountered at the various locations, only six didn't seem to have masks at all.
The bad news: Approximately 10 to 20 percent of everyone we sighted wore their masks incorrectly, usually under their nose — and since the most common way the virus spreads is by droplets emitted while exhaling, this technique isn't much of an improvement over skipping facial coverings entirely. Moreover, based on our observations, the number of people who have yet to figure out masks represents roughly the same percentage who weren't wearing them while shopping over the past couple of weeks. So while mask use has indeed increased, the results may be a wash at this point.
The Outlets at Castle Rock has an advantage over malls in that it is mostly an outdoor experience. Because each store has a separate entrance, many patrons put on a mask to enter, then quickly removed it as soon as they split — and because the center wasn't that busy on the afternoon we stopped by, maintaining a physical distance of six feet or more from other shoppers wasn't a problem.
In addition, stores appeared to be closely monitoring capacity, though this was necessary in only a few cases. The wait for admittance was longest outside the Nike store; of the thirty or so people lingering, most kept their masks on — and while there were a handful of exceptions, the fact that the line was outdoors definitely mitigated the issue.
It was a different story inside the businesses. The Adidas outlet limited the number of folks entering, too, but because the directional aisle markers on the floor were widely disregarded, customers occasionally found themselves in too-close proximity to someone with his or her shnozz on full display.
At FlatIron Crossing, more issues arose. We saw numerous employees at stores removing or lowering their face covering if no customers were inside — but because they were interacting with just a foot or so between them, they were risking infecting each other. This was also the case with workers at kiosks in the center of pedestrian areas, with the most ironic example seen in the photo at the top of this post, in which the employee chatting with another dude was actually working at a mask kiosk.
The weird phenomenon of kiosk employees not wearing facial coverings properly reappeared at the Aurora mall, as seen in the photo above. The worst of the batch was an energetic watch salesman who had ditched his mask entirely and was stepping within two or three feet of passing customers to make his pitch, as if the pandemic was already part of the distant past.
Another issue that arose in Aurora: people eating and drinking while walking. Polis's mask order, which can be read in its entirety here, specifically exempts mask use for "individuals who are seated at a food service establishment," but it says nothing about folks on the move.
Although this behavior would seem to technically violate the order, we didn't see security in Aurora or elsewhere encouraging people to finish eating and drinking in the food court and then put their masks back on — just as we didn't notice personnel contacting anyone with a bare nose to instruct them on the proper way to don a face covering.
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A scene we witnessed at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center exemplified both the best and the worst aspects of mask usage in the Mile High City.
At the mall's Lululemon store (photo above), we saw an employee refuse to admit someone in the middle school or high school age range who had somehow gained entry to the mall without a face covering. But after his rejection, the teen joined a group of six buddies — the rest with masks, but often worn over their mouth only — who then lunged at various shoppers while fake coughing and loudly guffawed at their reactions.
No, none of them appeared to have COVID-19. But if they were asymptomatic, they spewed virus at passersby in the service of a comedy routine that couldn't have been less funny.