mask mandates Colorado

Visitors comply with the face mask mandate due to the coronavirus as they enter the Denver Zoo on Nov. 5, 2020. 

Boards of health representing Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties will vote Monday on whether to require masks in indoor settings, as officials in Denver continue to discuss whether to implement their own orders.

Public health officials in those three counties — including the board that will vote on the order in Jefferson County — have all called for statewide mask mandates in the past week, urging Gov. Jared Polis to adopt them and other measures, including a vaccine passport system. But the governor has continued to resist doing so.

The Jefferson County Board of Health will meet at 11 a.m. Monday to consider an order that, as drafted, would require masks for everyone over the age of 2 when entering or remaining in indoor settings. It allows for several exceptions, including for medical reasons or when a person is sitting at a table. But it requires establishments to deny service to anyone out of compliance. Businesses can apply to be exempt if they require proof of vaccination upon entry, among other changes.

The order as written would kick in on Nov. 24 and remain in effect until transmission in the county drops and stays low for at least 21 days.

The Tri-County Board of Health, with authority over Adams and Arapahoe counties, will meet Monday afternoon. The body has not posted a draft of the order they will consider on its website. The agenda for the meeting describes a "mask requirement in all public indoor spaces in Adams and Arapahoe counties." 

The Jefferson County Board of Health wrote Polis earlier this week to "implore" him to institute a mask requirement, citing 16 COVID-19 deaths in the county within a week and "extremely disturbing" data trends. Representatives from both Tri-County and Jefferson County, along with more from Boulder, Denver and Broomfield, all signed on to a letter sent to Polis last week, asking him to issue a mask mandate, a vaccine passport system and broader vaccine requirements for workers across the state.

A message sent to Broomfield County's Department of Public Health and Environment was not returned Friday.

Bob McDonald, the executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said Friday afternoon that counties "are closer to just doing something ourselves." He said he anticipated "there will be some more mandates that will be implemented perhaps at the beginning of next week, before the holiday."

He said Denver officials were still discussing the orders and that agencies in the region were "very close to doing something if the governor doesn't, and it's pretty clear he won't, at least not now."

Asked if Denver and other counties were considering both masks and vaccine passports, McDonald said, "Those tools are certainly on the table." Details still need to be ironed out, he said, including how those two things would work together. A mask requirement in a setting where everyone must be vaccinated, for instance, seems superfluous.

Though Boulder has already implemented a mask order, Denver and other surrounding counties have not had a broad, indoor-based mandate in months. The state unwound its requirements last spring, and Denver followed suit shortly after.

But the pandemic has spiraled considerably since then, with hospital capacity in both the metro area and statewide stretched to an unprecedented point. 

McDonald said earlier this week he wanted a statewide order, rather than a "patchwork" response. Counties aren't siloed, he said, and the state's health system is so intertwined that Denver's hospitals will continue receiving COVID-19 patients from elsewhere in the state, regardless of its own policies.

Polis reiterated to reporters Friday that he still was not considering a mask order. He instead continued to press voluntary use of face coverings and pressed the roughly 20% of Coloradans who haven't been vaccinated to do so.