Although public health officials once declared face masks unnecessary for healthy people during the COVID-19 epidemic, the messaging has strongly changed course in recent weeks with the CDC now …
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Although public health officials once declared face masks unnecessary for healthy people during the COVID-19 epidemic, the messaging has strongly changed course in recent weeks with the CDC now recommending people wear a cloth face covering whenever they are in a “community setting.”
Now, Denver-area communities are increasingly taking things a step further than that guidance by implementing orders requiring that any customers entering certain businesses wear a mask in a bid to protect both customers and employees from disease.
Wheat Ridge requiring masks in essential businesses
Wheat Ridge became the first city in the metro area to do so on April 22 when city manager Patrick Goff issued a new order requiring anyone entering an essential business as defined by the state’s current public health order wear a face mask. Those businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and restaurants offering “take-out.”
“We realize this is more restrictive than any state-issued stay at home order or other public health order; however, the intent is to continue to control the spread of COVID-19 as we begin to reopen businesses,” Patrick Goff, Wheat Ridge’s City Manager, said in a press release.
That order, which took effect on April 27, stipulated that those who violated the order could be prosecuted for a misdemeanor. But then, during its April 27 meeting, the Wheat Ridge city council unanimously passed a resolution that removed the possibility of prosecution, replacing it with language urging residents to voluntarily cooperate with the order.
That move came after Wheat Ridge Police Chief Chris Murtha told the council Wheat Ridge police had been inundated with calls related to the order and explained that his department had previously found success enforcing other orders related to COVID-19, such as the state stay-at-home order, through education rather than enforcement.
He suggested a similar approach could be effective with the mask order, with officers still being able to issue citations for trespassing to those not wearing masks at the discretion of business owners similar to how police can be called to enforce “no shirt, no service” requirements at businesses under trespassing laws.
“If a business doesn’t want you to be in there because they feel its unsafe for their employees we will certainly come and advise you,” Murtha said. “We will seek voluntary compliance; we will ask you to come back when you have a mask. We have already done that with several times with complete compliance.”
The council also discussed concerns expressed by business owners who felt the order was leading to a decrease in business because shoppers coming from outside of Wheat Ridge might not know about the order to wear a mask or simply be discouraged by the need to do so. To address that issue, Goff said the city was in the process of acquiring masks that would be given to local businesses for customers to use.
Allison Scheck, the city’s Administrative Services Director, also argued that the ordinance could also have the effect of attracting customers to Wheat Ridge from outside the community and that the city should promote the mask requirement as a positive.
“I’ve certainly heard from people who have said `I am shopping in Wheat Ridge now’ so I think there is something to be said about really talking about how people can count on folks in Wheat Ridge to keep them safe,” Scheck said.
Other communities following suit
Now other Front Range communities appear to be following Wheat Ridge’s lead, with the city of Boulder passing its own order requiring face masks be worn in any portion of a business where the public is served just one day after Wheat Ridge passed its revised order.
In the days that followed, members of the Lone Tree and Longmont city councils also discussed requiring face masks to be worn in cities. On May 1, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also announced a public health order requiring people to wear face coverings while inside of or waiting to enter certain locations, including retail or commercial business, bus stops and facilities offering health care services.
“When we’re at the grocery store, work or any other business, my face covering protects you and your face covering protects me,” Mayor Hancock said. “The virus isn’t going away any time soon. By wearing a face covering, you’re doing your part to reduce the spread of infections and keep everyone safer.”
On May 4, Denver International Airport announced that, in accordance with the mayor’s order, all DIA visitors. employees and passengers will be required to wear face coverings while at the airport until further notice.
However, not all government officials are viewing mask requirements as a good fit for their communities. Christine Billings, the incident commander for Jefferson County’s COVID-19 response, told Colorado Community Media is strongly encouraging that anyone over two wear a mask when they go out (masks are considered unsafe for children under 2) said she did not think Jefferson County Public Health would consider a public health order.
“A public health order means that there is an enforcement piece with that,” Billings said. “I don’t think there would be anything coming requiring a mask for everybody.”
For now, the decision of whether to require residents will likely remain up to municipalities and counties as the state does not have any mask order in place.
However, Gov. Jared Polis did issue an executive order requiring all essential workers to wear masks on April 17 and has repeatedly encouraged Coloradoans to wear masks whenever they leave the house in press briefings.
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