New Metro Denver Mask Orders: The Tale of Two Unmasked Men

New Metro Denver Mask Orders: The Tale of Two Unmasked Men
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Within minutes of entering a King Soopers in the southwest suburbs the other day, I spotted two men without the face coverings necessitated for so long by the COVID-19 pandemic and required by the store. One was an elderly fellow wandering through the produce section on what appeared to be a futile search for a random vegetable he couldn't find or possibly even recognize. The other was a strapping, broad-shouldered dude in his thirties dressed from head to toe in camouflage who made eye contact with masked shoppers while invading their space. His expression was somewhere between a half-smile and a smirk.

I got the hell away from both of the men as quickly as possible, but inevitably encountered both of them again within minutes. The second time around, the elderly man was wearing a paper mask, suggesting that an employee or fellow customer had either provided him with one or mentioned his bare mug, prompting him to strap on a forgotten face covering he had with him. But Mr. Camo was still unmasked, and he remained that way throughout the rest of my visit. His attitude reminded me of a slogan on a T-shirt I saw the other day: "Sorry, But I Can't Hear You Over the Sound of My Freedom!"

Expect such interactions to escalate over the coming weeks, owing to widespread bafflement over Colorado's newly updated mask order, which went into effect on May 2.

Early reporting portrayed the tweaked regulation allowing people to go unmasked inside among groups of ten or more if at least 80 percent of them have been vaccinated as a sign that things are getting closer to normal. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education soon clarified that the 80 percent rate needed to be verified by the display of a vaccination card or other documentation; the honor system isn't acceptable. The result was a variation on the vaccine passport idea so reviled by anti-vaxxers and defiant loonbags who've somehow decided that the supposed obligation to protect others cramps their personal style.

Within days, metro area counties such as Jefferson and Denver altered their mask rules to align with the state's, and at a press conference on May 6, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald tried to clarify the 80 percent mandate. He stressed that if people are asked to offer proof that they've been vaccinated, they don't have to do so; the action is strictly voluntary. But unless enough individuals comply and show proof to reach the 80 percent threshold, masks still need to be worn indoors.

Moreover, McDonald explained, grocery stores and similarly sized retail operations such as box stores are simply too big to make the 80 percent rule practical right now. At settings like these, he said, "We'll keep face coverings in place for a little longer."

Still, the rules remain so confusing that plenty of people who've been vaccinated — and some who haven't — believe that they can go into stores without wearing masks. That puts staffers and other patrons in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether it's safe to say something to them.

As on my recent King Soopers trip, if the unmasked person (and let's be honest — it's almost always men) looks benign, other shoppers will likely speak up. But if the unmasked individual is physically imposing or seems politically motivated, they'll simply roll their eyes and walk away.
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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