A frequent refrain of Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Dr. Rachel Herlihy: Even though current COVID-19 data is improving, the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the state remains high — even without the risks associated with disease variants. As a result, they stress the continuing importance of wearing masks in public, maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from others and avoiding social get-togethers with people from different households until after 70 percent of the public has been vaccinated — something not expected to happen for months.
Nonetheless, a visit to Fort Collins on Saturday, January 30, showed that many Coloradans are either letting their guard down or flat-out rejecting safety protocols they never liked in the first place.
Needing a change of scenery, my wife and I traveled to FoCo to do some browsing at a batch of antique shops and flea markets on College Avenue, toward the south end of the community. They're some of our favorite places for retail therapy, yet we hadn't visited any of them since the start of the pandemic — and we probably won't go back until after we've received a couple of shots in the arm.
At one shop, multiple people without masks were inside the tightly packed place, including a small family and an employee moving in merchandise. Given the close quarters, staying away from them was extremely difficult — and the situation was made worse by some space-invading tendencies. As I was looking through a stack of vinyl 45s for my home jukebox, a guy set up camp directly behind me, so near that his back actually touched mine. I quickly stepped away from him and waited for him to move along — which he took several moments to do. By that time, my wife had already bailed.
We subsequently headed to one of the flea markets, where the man behind the counter wore a paper surgical mask dangling from one ear in what appeared to be a childish comment on the facial-covering mandate. "What's your problem?" his actions (and scowl) seemed to say. "I'm wearing one!" He waited on multiple customers without the mask getting anywhere near his nose and mouth, but at least one shopper didn't mind — since he was unmasked, too.
From there, we headed to the lovely shopping district of Old Town, where we witnessed more of the same. At last half of the people we eyeballed left the facial coverings off as they strolled outside, with multiple groups of what looked to be college-age pals or older friends in close proximity, faces bared.
Likewise, gaggles of diners on makeshift outdoor patios, and many of those actually inside eateries, eschewed the advice to don masks except while eating or drinking. The overwhelming majority of mugs were uncovered whether patrons were waiting for food to arrive or had already finished and were enjoying a post-repast chat. We even saw one woman sans mask sitting alone at a table with a book, which we're pretty sure she was consuming with her eyes rather than her teeth.
We saw a similar scenario later on January 30 at Washington Park, which was swarming with folks enjoying unexpectedly mild temperatures. Only about half of them were masked, and those who weren't included participants in numerous volleyball games, just like the ones we witnessed this past November, when Denver was deep into Level Red on the CDPHE's dial dashboard.
The next day, January 31, we stopped by a Jefferson County Walmart, where two white men of a certain age were shopping mask-free and instead wearing what we took to be permanently aggrieved expressions that practically dared other customers to say something about it.
No blame for their behavior should be ascribed to the Walmart employee monitoring the branch's main doors. As we were walking out, she stopped another unmasked man trying to enter, handed him a facial covering and told him to put it on. "If I have to," he grumbled.
"You have to," she confirmed.
Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough people like her in Colorado right now.
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