The disparity between these messages is exacerbated by the decision of numerous states to ease restrictions. Neighboring Wyoming has announced that it will lift its mask mandate on March 16, with bars, restaurants and theaters there allowed to start operating in pre-March 2020 mode over the coming weeks.
On March 6, a year and a day after Colorado's first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed on March 5, 2020, we set out to see what shopping is like in metro Denver today. Our target was Denver Premium Outlets in Thornton, a giant complex located just off Interstate 25 that attracts customers from along the Front Range as well as Wyoming. And the distinctions between those still in pandemic-period mode and people who are already acting as if everything's back to normal were plentiful.
There's no mystery why: In promoting mask usage shortly after COVID-19 struck, authorities stressed that outdoors was safer than indoors, and that advice translated to the idea that nose-and-mouth coverings are unnecessary if there's no roof overhead, even if others are close enough to brush shoulders as they pass.
Then there's the food-and-beverage exception. Lots of folks at the outlets clearly felt that if they had a drink or snack in their hand, their mask could be on their chin no matter whether they were staying in one place or strolling in close proximity to fellow consumers. At times, dozens of unmasked people were gathered in courtyard areas — and physical distancing was hardly being strictly enforced.
Most people we saw were cognizant of maintaining at least some space around them, but a distance of three feet was more typical than six. Still, we witnessed no examples of tension aimed at those who were or weren't acting as if COVID-19 is still a thing. Most people just seemed thrilled to be out of the house and in the company of others.
Scenes like these will become even more common if ongoing vaccinations effectively keep the disease at bay and rising variants don't create new spikes. Saturday at Denver Premium Outlets represented a transitional stage — but to what we're transitioning remains a blend of uncertainty and hope.