COVID-19 Mask Plea Mostly Ignored Outside in Metro Denver

Only a relative handful of folks visiting Cheesman Park on April 5 were wearing masks.
Only a relative handful of folks visiting Cheesman Park on April 5 were wearing masks. Courtesy of CBS4
During a press conference on April 3, Governor Jared Polis asked Coloradans to wear a cloth face mask whenever they left their home, in an attempt to lessen the spread of COVID-19. Based on an informal survey over the weekend, this request was ignored by the vast majority of residents enjoying Mother Nature in metro Denver, particularly those hiking, jogging, running or cycling.

However, there were a few good signs. Social distancing has improved locally since a similar survey of public places around the Mile High City on March 22, just before Denver and Colorado instituted stay-at-home orders. And masks were much more common sights at two local grocery stores, including one at which my mask elicited strange looks just over a week earlier.

On both Saturday, April 4, and Sunday, April 5, we checked out how many people were wearing masks along a ten-mile stretch of C-470 in Jefferson County — an area with a plethora of trails, bike paths and walking areas, some paved, some rocky. On both days, face coverings of any type were rare. Of approximately 75 people we counted during one span, masked folks numbered four — and over the course of the weekend, mask wearers represented well under 10 percent of the people we saw.

Those who chose not to wear masks included men and women of all ages — individuals above sixty were as likely to forgo face coverings as those in their twenties — and most children. And while many people appeared to be making greater efforts at social distancing than was the case during a mid-March hike in Boulder County, there were still plenty of occasions when unmasked runners or cyclists passed within a foot or so of each other, when they could easily have allowed for greater space either by briefly waiting in place or swinging wide when the path allowed.

Throughout the weekend, we saw the Morrison police conducting a typical speed trap near Bandimere Speedway, just west of C-470 near Red Rocks. The Colorado State Patrol ordered troopers to start wearing masks on April 4, but the Morrison officer was unmasked even when conducting a traffic stop — though we did see him communicate with a driver through the passenger-side window to create a slightly larger gap. In contrast, several Lakewood police officers we spotted conducting roadside activities were all wearing masks.

Governor Jared Polis modeling a face mask at an April 3 press conference. - COLORADO.GOV
Governor Jared Polis modeling a face mask at an April 3 press conference.
Saturday afternoon, we also took an extensive walk in central Denver around First Avenue and Broadway, and the mask buy-in there was greater, if not overwhelming. Around 10 to 20 percent of the dozens of people we saw during our stroll were wearing masks. Again, most cyclists and runners did not wear them. But we did see a couple of exercisers who wore cloth wraps around their neck that they could raise over their nose and mouth if the circumstances required it.

An odd sight: A mother pushing a stroller wasn't wearing a mask, but her baby's face was swaddled in one.

Other parts of Denver provided even less evidence of the "mask culture" for which Polis had advocated, including Cheesman Park, which was packed with groups of people eschewing face coverings, as seen in the image above. At Confluence Park, masks were also little in evidence. But about 20 percent of the folks walking around Sloan's Lake on Saturday sported face coverings.

On Sunday, we explored a different part of the metro area: Olde Town Arvada. In the neighborhoods around the area, no more than 10 percent of the people we saw were wearing masks, and in the de-populated shopping area, we spotted only two folks wearing them out of the twenty or so walking around.

Later that day, we visited the Trader Joe's in Littleton that had served as the setting for my inaugural outing in a mask. At that time, my wife and I were the only people in the store with our faces covered. On April 5, however, every Trader Joe's staffer was masked and wore gloves, along with about half the customers.

At a nearby King Soopers that we featured in a March piece about panic buying, a similar percentage of patrons were masked on Sunday — a huge leap over previous visits during the past month or so. But most didn't see the necessity of keeping the mask on outside; several pulled theirs on or off upon entering or exiting. And only two shoppers were wearing gloves, even though the virus can be spread on items touched but not purchased.

As for the King Soopers employees, some were wearing masks, but most weren't — and only some were wearing gloves. We asked one staffer if mask-wearing was a requirement at the outlet and were told it was up to each individual.

That's the case for the rest of the people of Denver, too. And at present, residents of the metro area are much more likely to wear a mask inside than out, no matter what Polis would prefer.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts