//Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide mask mandate on July 16, 2020, citing growing COVID-19 cases in Colorado. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | firstname.lastname@example.org
With COVID-19 numbers and related hospitalizations increasing, Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide mask order for Coloradans aged 10 and up when in public effective midnight on July 16.
“The situation is more dangerous in our state. Not as dangerous as states like Texas or Florida yet, but without action the situation will worsen in our state,” Polis said.
Polis backtracked from comments he made on Tuesday saying he was unwilling to commit to a statewide mask mandate. Instead, at Thursday’s press conference Polis cited two major statistics in his decision to issue the order. Following a presentation from state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, which showed case numbers rising throughout the state, Polis said there was a slim window in which to act. As businesses reopen and people relax their social distancing behaviors, hospitalization is on track to exceed hospital capacity by either September or early October Polis said.
The governor urged Coloradans to return their social distancing behaviors to those from late May and early June. Saying the party needed to end, Polis pointed out that a greater proportion of COVID-19 cases was occurring in people under 40. He also said that younger people who went out more were also responsible for spreading the virus among family and friends who do not leave their homes as often.
The second statistic that influenced the governor’s decision to issue a statewide order was evidence showing that with mask orders in place, people were 15% more likely to wear a mask in public. The surveys he cited compared different Colorado counties with mask orders against those without. The surveys showed that not only were counties with mask orders more likely to wear masks but that people were also more likely to observe social distancing.
Both these factors led to the statewide mask order. Polis said the goal was to provide clarity to all of the state regarding whether or not a mask should be worn. However, masks shouldn’t be seen as a silver bullet, or as a replacement for social distancing. Both measures are intended to work in tandem, Polis said.
“I believe that it is the best, least invasive, least costly public option that is available to us to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman. The alternatives are to shut down our businesses, and to force our schools to remain closed if no preventative actions are taken.”
Officials cited mask-wearing as the best way to save lives while at the same time avoiding further damage to the economy. Coffman even noted his opposition to a mask mandate, based on the decreasing COVID-19 numbers from earlier in the month. However, after he was presented with the same data Polis had access to, Coffman called Polis and urged action to stop the spread.
Coffman also pointed out that when a majority of Aurora’s workforce commutes to other counties, a patchwork of mask mandates was simply not feasible for containing the virus.
“The reality is, this is not a criminal thing. We’re not trying to do criminal compliance. This is civil. We’re asking you to do the right thing for all of us, based on the community,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “It says a heck of a lot more about the person who doesn’t want to wear the mask, who wants to politicize it.”
Polis said that the state has a few ways to work with local law enforcement. If an individual wants to step into a store with no mask, businesses can call police for trespassing. If a business doesn’t want to comply with the order, the state can cite licensing regulations, which carry health code requirements, to ensure compliance. However, the mandate still requires local buy-in from law enforcement, which Polis was confident would happen.
Some bit of good news came out of the press conference, however. Due to the state’s success in navigating international supply chains to procure personal protective equipment, the state has enough medical-grade masks available to send out to school districts. Teachers will receive one mask per week. Polis said the state will be a partner in helping schools procure whatever protection equipment they need in order to maintain a safe environment for teachers and students.