Denver skyline state capitol (copy)

Sunset over the State Capitol

By Wednesday, most of the Denver metro area will be required to wear masks in public indoor settings. All of the orders came in a flurry Monday evening and Tuesday morning, as health officials in the area have sounded increasingly urgent alarms about hospital capacity here.

So what county has what order? Who's covered? And what's the deal with vaccine checks? 

What counties have orders?

On Monday night, boards of health representing Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams counties all voted to implement mask orders for indoor settings in their respective regions of authority. On Tuesday morning, Denver followed suit.

Those counties join Boulder and Larimer counties, both of which had face-covering orders in place before November. 

Douglas County does not have a mask order. Nor does Broomfield, at least not yet; other metro area officials have said the county is considering its own mandate.

What kind of spaces do these orders cover?

For the metro counties, the thrust is indoor, public settings. According to Denver's order, that means "any enclosed indoor area, other than a person’s residence, that is publicly or privately owned, managed, or operated to which individuals have access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied, or that is accessible to the public, serves as a place of employment, or is an entity providing goods or services." The Jefferson County order uses the same language. In other words — businesses, restaurants, bars, gyms, retail settings.

Who do the orders apply to?

There's slight deviation here, in terms of age ranges. In Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties, the orders apply to everyone 2 and up. In Jefferson County, it's 3 and up. People who are medically unable to wear masks or who need to see a mouth moving to communicate are exempt, too.

There are a number of exemptions in the order for when masks don't need to be worn indoors. In Denver, those exemptions are:

  • people in a building with a vaccine check (more on that in a minute);
  • people seated in a restaurant actively eating or drinking;
  • people who need to temporarily remove their masks to be legally identified;
  • law enforcement, firefighters and first-responders when "actively engaged in a public safety role";
  • people "actively engaged" in performance art, in leading a religious service or in similar indoor activities, so long as they remain 12 feet away from others;
  • people receiving a "personal, religious, or medical service" during which the removal of the mask is necessary;
  • people who are alone in an enclosed room with only those in their same household;
  • people who are swimming or whose faces may get wet;
  • people testifying in court proceedings, though they must remain masked during the rest of the proceeding;
  • and during "proceedings where the ability to see the mouth and hear the translation is essential to communication, so long as such individuals wear a face covering when not providing interpretation services."

So what's up with these vaccine check systems?

In all of the metro counties, the orders allow businesses to forgo mask requirements if they check patrons' vaccination status before they enter the facility. In Denver, the threshold is that at least 95% of people — including staff — in an indoor space must be fully vaccinated for at least two weeks after completing a one- or two-dose vaccine course. 

Businesses in Denver must work with health officials and provide information before they're approved.

Wasn't there a vaccine passport program for large indoor events?

Yep. That's still on the books, and it's a state order. It requires indoor events with more than 500 unseated people to check vaccination status in most of the metro. 

How long are these going to be in place?

It varies. Denver's will be in place through Jan. 3. Jefferson County's is open-ended and is pegged to the pandemic's presence in the county. Tri-County's is in place through Jan. 3, but it, too, is also relying on availability of staffed ICU beds.

How will they be enforced?

Health officials from all of these agencies have said their focus is not on punishment. They've said that, theoretically, they would receive complaints about a business not following masking protocols. They'd then work with the business, they said, and educate them. But if the problem continues, enforcement can be stepped up to be more punitive. Public health agencies aren't prosecutors, so they can't charge anyone with misdemeanors. But the orders are just that — orders, with the enforceability of law. 

Is there a state order?

Nope, and by all accounts, one is not imminent. Gov. Jared Polis has repeatedly rejected the suggestion that he or the state health department would institute a mask order.