Tri-County Health Enacting Mask Requirement, Allowing Opt-Out

There will soon be a face-mask requirement for Douglas, Adams and Arapahoe counties.
There will soon be a face-mask requirement for Douglas, Adams and Arapahoe counties.
The Tri-County Health Department, which has jurisdiction over Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, will soon enact a mask requirement for the area. Facial coverings will be required both indoors at local businesses and other establishments, and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

Municipalities within the area and even counties can opt out of the requirement, however.

Right now, Tri-County staff and legal counsel are "working out the details," according to Gary Sky, a spokesperson for the department.

To date, Arapahoe County has tallied 5,421 cases of COVID-19, while Adams County has had 4,478 and Douglas County 1,042. But in late June, Tri-County announced that the daily rate of new cases across all three counties was growing.

“This recent uptick isn’t surprising, since we knew that when we began to increase testing and ease some of our social distancing restrictions, the numbers of cases would likely increase. However, as the experience in other states in many parts of the U.S. indicates, now is not a time to be complacent about key prevention strategies, including wearing a face mask in public, continuing to social distance, washing your hands frequently and getting tested and isolating when sick," John Douglas, the department's executive director, said in a statement announcing the new requirement.

Denver County, which has clocked 7,477 cases, has had a mask requirement for people shopping in retail outlets in place since early May. Some Colorado counties, such as Boulder, have gone even further, requiring face masks for those inside and outside anytime that six feet of social distancing isn't possible. That's similar to the rule expected for the Tri-County region.

In early June, Governor Jared Polis gave the green light to businesses across Colorado to refuse service to customers not wearing face masks.

Even with COVID-19's spread increasing in the three counties, Tri-County's Board of Health split five to four on the mask requirement. And it's likely that municipalities in Douglas County — if not the entire county itself — could end up opting out.

In March, Republican state lawmakers representing parts of Douglas County asked the county commissioners to cut ties with the Tri-County Health Department over its issuance of a "shelter in place" order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

"It is our understanding that at least two of you opposed this heavy-handed application of governmental power. To those who did oppose the action, thank you for standing for the Constitution and with the majority of your constituents here in Douglas County. We consider it unacceptable that a contracted health agency could somehow ignore the will of a majority of our elected and accountable Douglas County Commissioners," the lawmakers wrote, while also urging the county to align with "either El Paso County Health or to create a new health agency."

And in May, C&C Breakfast and Korean Kitchen in Castle Rock opened up for Mother's Day brunch without getting permission from health authorities to do so. After a video of patrons who weren't wearing face masks or practicing social distancing went viral, the state health department temporarily suspended the license of that restaurant.

C&C is now open for business...legally.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.