New Denver COVID-19 Rules: Masks Outside, Gathering Limit to Five

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during an event in September.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during an event in September.
During an October 16 press conference, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, joined by Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald, announced two new public-health orders intended to help mitigate spiking data related to COVID-19. The first calls for the wearing of face coverings in most outdoor locations. The second reduces the approved limit for gatherings in many, but not all, settings from ten to five.

The order related to mask usage is open-ended, while the gathering limitations will last for the next thirty days. Both go into effect immediately.

"We want to raise the flag and sound the alarm," Hancock said.

Statistics shared by McDonald underscored the worsening stats related to the novel coronavirus, including an average daily case rate of 265 over the most recent two-week period and a declining number of days when hospitalizations have remained stable. These figures are even more concerning given the impending holiday season, when family get-togethers are expected to translate into a further upswing in positive tests. As a result, Hancock stressed, "we must take these additional steps."

Right now, Denver is categorized as Safer at Home Level 2 on the dial system developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. However, McDonald pointed out that metrics related to average cases, hospitalizations and the positivity rate suggest that this position could soon be switched to Safer at Home Level 3 — a standard that would require reduced capacity at restaurants and businesses, among other things. Hancock argued that such a switch could be devastating for the local economy.

On the subject of masks, McDonald offered several examples of situations that might or might not require behavioral changes because of the new orders. For instance, he said, "if you're outdoors by yourself, you will not have to wear a facial covering, or if you're outside with family members in your household," even if the number of cohabitants is over five, "you are not required to wear a facial covering. But if you're congregating with other people outside of your immediate household members, you will be required to wear a facial covering. If I leave my place of employment by myself to walk down the 16th Street Mall, I won't have to wear one. But if I leave with co-workers, all of us would be required to wear one, just as we do during the work setting."

The gathering rules, meanwhile, exempt schools offering in-person instruction, plus employees and diners in restaurants, which must follow their own set of rules and safety protocols. Likewise, they won't apply to organized youth or adult athletic activities — but pickup football or basketball games in which more than five people participate are verboten in Denver for the next thirty days.

The order also applies to office environments — meetings must now be limited to five or fewer — and private home settings. A family of four can have one guest at this point, McDonald said, but a clan with seven members can't invite anyone over for the next month without violating the mandate.

McDonald didn't want to leave the impression that the new orders will prevent Denver residents from being active. He emphasized that people can continue to eat out at restaurants, run through a park, play basketball as long as the number of participants is five or lower, exercise at their favorite gym and more.

In regard to enforcement, the Denver Department of Public Safety will be in charge of making sure the orders are followed. The agency will be focused on regulated settings, but individuals violating the rules about congregating in public places run the risk of a citation, too.

According to Hancock, "These orders set the legal framework for the civil enforcement of the laws as we announced them here. But it's equally important that we send a clear notice and call for personal responsibility. We are in a county brimming at the edge of a crisis that could further risk individuals' health as well as damage our economy."
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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