Indoor mask wearing required again in Denver

Hancock cites 'dangerous pressure on our hospitals'

Kyle Cooke
Rocky Mountain PBS
Posted 11/24/21

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Nov. 23 that the City and County of Denver was implementing a mask mandate starting Nov. 24 that requires face coverings in most indoor settings for anyone ages …

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Indoor mask wearing required again in Denver

Hancock cites 'dangerous pressure on our hospitals'

Posted

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Nov. 23 that the City and County of Denver was implementing a mask mandate starting Nov. 24 that requires face coverings in most indoor settings for anyone ages 2 and up as a COVID-19 safety measure.

"Absent additional statewide measures to address this current challenge, regional protective actions have become necessary to reduce the dangerous pressure on our hospitals," Hancock said.

The new public health order will last until January 3, 2022, and could be extended if necessary.

Hancock called the order a "vax/mask mandate," because businesses and venues that require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will not have to require masks.

The mayor emphasized that the mask mandate would not be needed if more people had been vaccinated.

“If other communities in Colorado and around the country took the affirmative steps we have taken around vaccines, the pandemic would be under control," Hancock said.

Earlier this year, Denver introduced a public health order requiring all city employees, including some private sector entities in high-risk settings, to be fully vaccinated.

Speaking at the Nov. 23 press conference, Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver's Department of Public Health & Environment, expressed frustration with unvaccinated people.

“We are here today because too many people chose not to get vaccinated even though they were eligible," he said.

Hancock said the mask mandate was necessary to ensure businesses and schools could remain open, as well as to reduce the strain on area hospitals.

"We are at a point of breaking. The hospitals of the Denver metro area are full," said Denver Health CEO Dawn Wittenstein, who also spoke at the press conference.

The mayor’s announcement comes less than 24 hours after the Tri-County Health Department voted to approve an indoor mask mandate for Adams and Arapahoe counties.

John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, acknowledged that the new mandate won’t be celebrated by all.

“We didn’t undertake this to win a popularity contest,” Douglas said. “We undertook this because our reading of the situation is that there are substantial downsides that are going to (occur) if we breach hospital capacity and have to ration care.”

Businesses in Adams and Arapahoe County are exempt from the mask mandate if they require staff and visitors to be fully vaccinated.

Also on Nov. 22, Jefferson County Public Health's board voted 4-1 to institute a health ordinance requiring people ages 3 and up to wear masks when in public indoor spaces.

Those counties are all included in the public health order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, issued earlier this month, that requires anyone who attends a public, indoor event with 500 or more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Colorado is above average in terms of vaccinations. According to data analysis from NPR, Colorado ranks 16th in the country in terms of the percentage of adults who are fully vaccinated. We are 15th in terms of the percentage of the total population that is vaccinated.

The numbers are even more impressive in the counties that have now instituted a mask order: Among Coloradans 12 and older, as of Nov. 23, the vaccination rate is 80.4% in Denver County, 78.4% in Jefferson County, 74% in Arapahoe County and 72.1% in Adams County.

However, hospitalizations continue to climb across the state. The latest data from CDPHE show more than 1,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, nearing the record-high 1,841 set in December 2020, before vaccines were widely available (and before the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 took over Colorado).

Over 80% of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated. What’s more, hospital bed capacity is at a pandemic low.

The first statewide mask mandate was issued in July 2020, and lasted about 10 months. In May of this year, Gov. Jared Polis announced that fully vaccinated Coloradans could ditch their masks in most indoor settings. Again, that was before the delta surge.

But despite the surging cases and hospitalizations, Polis has declined to re-implement a statewide mask order, instead leaving the decision to individual public health agencies.

This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit public broadcaster providing community stories across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.

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