DENVER – People will no longer be required to wear masks or show proof of vaccination to enter Denver businesses starting Friday, though the mask requirement will continue for schools and child care facilities, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Monday.
The mayor said the current public health order would expire Friday and would not be renewed at this time. However, he and Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said masks will continue to be required at schools and child care facilities.
The continued requirement for people to wear masks in schools is so schools can remain open to in-person learning and so students and staff can operate “as safely as possible,” Hancock said.
Private businesses can also continue to require people to wear masks inside or require the proof of vaccination from customers and visitors, Hancock said.
“We’re at a very important pivot point in this battle,” Hancock said.
More than 78% of Denver residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday, and the mayor said the virus would be something “we’re going to have to manage and learn to live with.”
“This is still a public health emergency and will remain so as long as there are spikes, surges and variants that threaten to overwhelm health care systems,” Hancock said.
McDonald said modeling from the state indicates that lifting the face covering requirement this week would have “little change” on the trajectory of the number of cases and hospitalizations in Denver and in the metro area, which have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
“As a city, we’ve repeatedly taken steps to protect one another and save lives, and we are grateful to all Denver residents who have done their part to comply with past public health orders,” McDonald said. “We are confident our residents will continue to make the right decisions when it comes to their health.”
As of Jan. 10 in Denver, there was a 7-day average case rate of 1,998 cases per 100,000 of COVID-19. That number fell to 588 per 100,000 as of Jan. 29 and continues to fall as of Monday, McDonald said.
He said it was clear that the metro-wide move to require masks indoors or vaccine passports certainly had an effect on the modeling that was seen in November, which indicated if those requirements were not in place, the hospital capacity could have been breached. It was not despite near record-high numbers of cases and hospitalizations.
“Omicron has run out of fuel within our community,” McDonald said, adding that between the levels of vaccination and boosters in Denver, and the levels of infection from the omicron variant, indicated that this week would be a safe time to lift the requirements.
They said that people should still be diligent – especially if they are not vaccinated either because of compromised immune systems or because people have chosen not to be.
“This is saying the data tells us, the modeling tells us, it’s OK to drop the mask requirement starting Friday,” Hancock said.
McDonald said the school requirement would continue because not all children can be vaccinated and because of state guidance surrounding quarantines.
“We have to look at state guidelines and policy, and if we lift that policy for schools, it’s possible kids could get taken out of schools,” McDonald said.
Ball Arena will still require people ages 12 and up to provide proof they are fully vaccinated or have gotten a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event. Everyone ages 2 and up will still be required to wear a mask while indoors and in any admission lines.
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts will continue to require people to show proof of vaccine unless they are under age 5, in which case they will need a negative test within 72 hours of the event. Or that could include a negative rapid test within 6 hours of the performance start time.
Regarding possible future variants, McDonald and Hancock said they will do what they need to in order to react. McDonald noted that Hancock had been the first in the state to implement many mandates throughout the pandemic and would not hesitate to move in the future.
The mask requirements will also continue for transportation like RTD under federal rules, and people who work with high-risk people, like those at long-term care facilities, will continue to have to wear them as well, Hancock said.
Last Friday, Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and a member of the Colorado COVID modeling team, said the latest model estimates about 75% of Coloradans are currently immune to omicron at the moment due to vaccines and infections, and the modeling team expects that level to go up to 80% in the comes weeks.
Other counties to lift, consider lifting requirements as well
Larimer County also announced Monday afternoon that it would lift its public health order requiring masks indoors on Saturday, Feb. 12.
"This timeline will allow for the omicron wave to further retreat and gives families, local businesses, and schools time to prepare for the transition," said Kori Wilford, MPH, the interim community relations and public information supervisor for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
The Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) Board of Health voted Monday to let mask requirements expire in Adams and Arapahoe counties in both schools and public indoor spaces. The requirements will expire Saturday, Feb. 5.
“While wearing a well-fitting face covering is still an important COVID-19 prevention measure, especially in indoor public spaces, we do think it is reasonable to end the public health orders requiring them now,” said Dr. John M. Douglas, Jr., executive director of Tri-County Health Department. “We have worked closely with our school districts to ensure they have capacity to implement a range of prevention measures to accommodate particularly at-risk students and to minimize disruptions to in-person learning.”
Jefferson County Public Health said its board will meet Thursday to determine whether or not to lift the mask requirement there.
McDonald said he has been communicating with the other metro-area public health directors and said they would be making their own announcements.
"Make no mistake, we are in very close communication regionally," he said.
Dr. Dylan Luyten, the medical director of emergency services at Swedish Medical Center, said Monday that case and hospitalization numbers continue decline, which he said was good news.
“The reality is that, as has been the case all along, things are evolving continually. And I think we’re always needing to adapt to whatever’s the kind of current conditions are. The good news about the current omicron variant is that for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, the morbidity and risk is very, very low,” Luyten said. “It is not, however. Zero. … There needs to be some consideration of relative risk. For folks who are immunocompromised, for folks with chronic lung disease or heart disease, the risk of infection is still real.”
Luyten said it would be “prudent” to consider still wearing masks while indoors and around people – especially for people who are more vulnerable to severe infections.
“On the other hand, I think people should view this (dropping the requirements) for what it is, which is good news,” Luyten said. “We seem to be moving out of this phase of the pandemic and moving into a more endemic phase, meaning the infection is still out there. We have pretty widespread vaccination in Colorado, thank goodness, and folks who are fully vaccinated are at extraordinarily low risk of getting seriously ill from omicron.”
Denver7's CB Cotton contributed to this report.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.