A Tale of Unmasked Outdoor Joy in Jefferson County

A Tale of Unmasked Outdoor Joy in Jefferson County
Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash
The latest COVID-19 data in Colorado is rising again, yet government entities continue to ease safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus. Among the latest is Jefferson County, which revealed yesterday, April 5, that it has amended its mask order to allow facial coverings to be skipped if folks are outdoors.

"We are making good progress on COVID-19 vaccinations — especially among our high-risk priority populations — and folks are getting outside more, where the risk of transmission is reduced," stated Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Dawn Comstock in conjunction with the announcement. "While we are at a place where we can remove the outdoor mask requirements, we are asking our residents and visitors to continue wearing their masks indoors a bit longer so we can stay on the right path. After vaccination, masking and social distancing remain the most effective weapons we have against COVID-19 transmission."

As a Jefferson County resident, I can tell you the new order won't make a big difference, since plenty of folks have ignored the outdoor mask requirement for months — far more than in Denver proper, where compliance has been stronger (and remains a requirement, though that could change soon). A walk around Clement Park, near Columbine High School, this past weekend found around 75 percent of my fellow pedestrians with their noses and mouths unencumbered.

For the remaining 25 percent who've stuck with mask use inside and out, the sight of all those bare mugs could be unsettling after a year-plus spent frustrated by those who adamantly believe that personal freedom means the right to potentially infect everyone around them. But I'm working my way toward acceptance, with the crucial help of a certain three-year-old in my neighborhood, whom I see frequently while walking my dog.

In recent months, the rambunctious toddler has been obsessed with a Christmas gift: a motorized, child-sized car that allows him to drive along the sidewalk behind his mother, most often seen wearing an infant in a porta-womb strapped to her torso. It was clearly the perfect present, since even a passerby like myself could tell he's absolutely captivated by anything with wheels, and the bigger the better.

But my delight turned to discomfort one morning when I saw him and his mom chatting with a pair of garbage collectors standing next to their giant vehicle, which was parked at the curb. No one was masked, and everyone was within a foot or so of each other. Indeed, the boy even gave a high-five to one of the men; they were both bare-handed. And the conversation went on for a long time under these circumstances — more than five minutes, at least.

The scenario seemed like COVID-19 spread waiting to happen, but when I told my daughter about it, she saw it in a completely different way — as a wonderful example of a mom letting her son be himself while teaching him how cool a job many of us see as unpleasant can be.

Over the coming weeks, her words resonated every time I saw the boy. He had so fallen in love with trash trucks that his mother started to time their walks to the pick-up schedule — and this routine continues to this day. Each week, the little family of three can be seen following the collectors around the neighborhood, and each time the truck's apparatus lifts a garbage receptacle into the air and empties its contents, I find myself grateful I can witness the excited look on the boy's face.

All of us will see more expressions in the months to come, as long as a new surge of COVID-19 doesn't force Jefferson County and the rest of Colorado to get tough on masks again. And I hope, for the sake of all, that they bring as much joy as his.
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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