Many Metro Denver Stores Not Ready for Pandemic 2.0

A display at a metro area King Soopers, which is unloading hand sanitizer at a deep discount.
A display at a metro area King Soopers, which is unloading hand sanitizer at a deep discount. Photo by Michael Roberts
The woman at the Denver West Old Navy on August 22 was unhappy even before she asked the clerk where she could find the face masks — and when she was told the store was sold out, her mood quickly escalated to anger.

The federal government announced in May that masks no longer needed to be worn by vaccinated people at public places indoors, and Colorado quickly followed suit. Afterward, the woman said, she'd happily thrown away all of her face coverings. But then, with the influx of the more transmissible Delta variant and rising case counts, officials reversed course and recommended that everyone, inoculated or not, go back to masking.

This advice clearly did not make the woman happy. But what worsened the situation was that no stores she'd visited seemed to have masks in stock. And when the Old Navy clerk tremulously suggested that she try ordering face coverings online, the woman, whose vintage appeared to be well into senior-discount territory, looked as if she'd just been slapped in her completely bare face.

Her frustration was understandable. At a press conference in September that coincided with a rash of wildfires in the state, Governor Jared Polis, who'd recommended masks back in April 2020, admitted, "We all are frustrated with masks. I can't wait for two things: the fire bans to be over and the mask requirement to be over." He added that many people "will be happy to have little bonfires" to burn their masks as soon as they can.

He was right about that. This summer, the Independence Institute hosted a mask-burning party and a Castle Rock plumbing business threw a cookout at which anyone who incinerated their mask in the event's firepit received a $100 service voucher. About that same time, retail outlets across Denver, and the nation as a whole, began trying to unload masks and other COVID-19 safety items as quickly as possible, and that process continues. At a southwest metro King Soopers, bottles of hand sanitizer are currently going for 75 percent off — but while the sign offered the same discount on face masks, none were present in the display.

Masks were making a comeback in metro Denver even before the new federal guidelines came down in late July, and that process has picked up steam in the weeks since. Walmart stores didn't exactly lead the way in face-covering use last year, and the chain suffered scads of outbreaks as a result. But on August 22, every employee we saw at a Jefferson County outlet wore a face covering, and so did probably 20 percent of the customers. Meanwhile, stores such as Twist & Shout Records have gone back to requiring that patrons be masked — and they've been happy to comply.

As for the woman at the Old Navy, she stormed out of the store with a clearly visible frown on her face. But the mere fact that she was willing to mask up again, no matter how reluctantly, ought to cheer staffers at public-health departments in metro Denver and beyond.

Now if someone can just explain to her how to order a face covering online....
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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