Denver Mask Haters, Beware: Metro Face-Covering Orders Are Back

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock rocking a state-pride mask.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock rocking a state-pride mask.
Anti-maskers in metro Denver are going to be pissed.

Because of high-level COVID-19 spread, on November 22 the Jefferson County Board of Health and the Tri-County Health Department, which continues to hold sway in Arapahoe and Adams counties (for now, anyway), both approved mask rules that will go into effect on November 24 for indoor public spaces. And the City and County of Denver will reportedly follow suit; Mayor Michael Hancock is scheduled to deliver an update at 11:30 a.m. today, November 23.

Boulder's had an indoor mask order in place since early September, and Broomfield is discussing one. If Denver and Broomfield join the masked ball, the only major county in the metro area to reject an invitation is Douglas County, which created its own health department owing largely to antipathy of COVID-19 safety protocols and had to be sued by the Douglas County School District to drop a face-covering opt-out rule at public schools. Dougco's departure from the Tri-County Health Department started a domino effect that's essentially doomed the agency. As a result, TCHD leaders have nothing to lose by putting a new mask order in place.

Our November 22 post headlined "COVID in Colorado: Spread Extreme in 61 Counties" demonstrates that greater Denver is hardly the only place in the state where the disease is prevalent. Statistics on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's COVID-19 dial dashboard show the entire metro area and all but three other counties across the state at Level Red as measured by a two-week cumulative incidence rate.

The Jefferson County Board of Health's meeting at which a change in face-covering regulations was considered began at 11 a.m. yesterday and went on for many hours before panel members voted 4-1 in favor of a new order. Its draft version stresses that "all individuals aged 2 or older, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a Face Covering while entering or within any Public Indoor Space, unless exempt pursuant to Section 3 of this Order or actively engaged in an activity described in Section 4 of this Order."

Those exempt from the face-covering requirements include "individuals under age 2" and "individuals who cannot medically tolerate a Face Covering." Here's the list of exceptions:
a. Individuals who are hearing impaired or otherwise disabled or who are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication.

b. Individuals who are seated at a food service establishment or actively eating or drinking.

c. Individuals who are asked to temporarily remove their Face Covering for identification purposes in furtherance of a particular service requiring legal identification.

d. Individuals who are actively engaged in a public safety role, such as law enforcement personnel, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel.

e. Individuals who are actively engaged in a performing arts performance, leading religious services, or engaged in other similar activities, so long as the individual maintains at least twelve (12) feet distance from non-household members indoors.

f. Individuals who are receiving a personal, religious, or medical service where the temporary removal of the Face Covering is necessary to perform the service.

g. Individuals who are alone in an enclosed room or only with members of their same Household in an enclosed room.

h. Individuals who are in a swimming pool and actively engaged in a pool activity in which their Face Covering might become wet.

i. Individuals participating in certain indoor sports activities as permitted by Boulder County Public Health’s sports guidance.

j. Individuals who are officiating or participating in a life rite or religious service where the temporary removal of a face covering is necessary to complete or participate in the life rite or religious service.

k. Individuals inside an Approved Fully Vaccinated Facility whose owner or operator has submitted a request for and obtained explicit approval from Jefferson County Public Health for an exception or exceptions to this mask order as defined in the Approved Fully Vaccinated Guidance.
The Tri-County Health Department order, approved on November 22 by a 5-1 vote after two-plus hours of back-and-forth discussion, contains very similar language, as expected; with some exceptions, most metro area health departments have collaborated and coordinated actions throughout the pandemic. Likewise, according to Fox31, Denver's mandate for masking at indoor public spaces is expected to allow some exemptions and let businesses apply to require either face coverings or vaccination proof.

The Jefferson County order will remain in effect at times of high COVID-19 transmission. The Tri-County Health Department version is set to run through at least January 3, 2021, and can be extended. Click to read the Jefferson County draft and the TCHD draft.
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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