LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. – Residents in Larimer County will be required to wear face masks in all public indoors spaces once again as hospitals struggle to care for patients coming into the ICU.
The new public health order, released Friday afternoon by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDPHE), calls on everyone aged 3 and up to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces starting at 12 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, regardless of vaccination status.
County health officials said Friday local hospital ICUs have been operating at or above 100% capacity for the past month. Currently, 40% of patients in the ICU have COVID-19 and 90% of those are unvaccinated. Their hope is that universal mask wearing will help slow transmission of the highly virulent delta variant until more people get vaccinated.
“Larimer County hospitals are being overburdened and we cannot allow this to continue indefinitely,” said Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales in a prepared statement. “Our hospitals need relief so they can swiftly and adequately treat all urgent medical needs in our community. Universal mask-wearing is the next best prevention tool we have to reduce the strain on our hospitals.”
Data from the Larimer County COVID-19 dashboard shows 35% of the county has yet to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The data also shows the county reported an average of 250+ cases per 100,000 people over the past month.
LCDPHE officials said the public health order will remain in place until the county has met the following metrics for 21 consecutive days:
1. Less than 65 COVID-19 patients in Larimer County hospitals
2. ICU capacity at less than 90% of usual and customary levels
3. A 7-day case rate of less than 300 cases per 100,000 people.
4. A 7-day positivity rate of less than 10%.
Larimer County will become the fifth Colorado county to reinstate mask mandates as cases of the novel virus continue to increase across the state due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
San Juan County was the first county in Colorado to reinstate a temporary mask mandate on Aug. 13, just shy of three months after Gov. Jared Polis lifted the statewide mandate on May 14. San Miguel County mandated masks indoors at the beginning of Sept., and Boulder County reinstated its mask mandate two days later, on Sept. 3, followed by Pitkin County, which reinstated theirs on Sept. 16. S
The LCDPHE’s decision to reinstate masks indoors – regardless of vaccination status – was welcomed news by hospital systems in the area.
“Last year, when we all masked and practiced social distancing, there were far fewer flu and RSV cases, which lessened the burden on hospitals and allowed us to get a handle on the pandemic,” said Margo Karsten, president of Banner Health Western Region. “To put us back in a good position to provide the care everyone needs, we support steps to have community members adopt good health practices and reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses.”
UCHealth North Region president and CEO Kevin Unger said masking was a measure that helped in the past.
"Hospitals have been overburdened too long with COVID-19 patients and need relief. Universal masking has proven to work by reducing the spread of the virus,” Unger said.
Statewide, Colorado saw a 61% jump in transmission of COVID-19 over the past two weeks and now ranks 14th highest across the U.S. for cases per 100,000 people. At the beginning of October, Colorado ranked 41st when compared to the rest of the country.
On Thursday, the state reported the highest number of hospital beds in use by patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highest patient count so far this year, according to CDPHE’s COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman.
Most of those beds are being used by people who are not yet vaccinated against the novel virus. Seventy-eight percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide are among unvaccinated patients.
“We are in a battle with a virus, and the sooner we, again, collectively fight this virus, the sooner masks will be a thing of our past,” Gonzales said.
On Friday, Denver7 spoke with business owners across Larimer County preparing to adjust practices for the upcoming public health order.
"I just started informing my staff that this is what we're going to start doing, and we're going to put out signs this weekend to stay ahead of it and let everybody know," said Chris Mulligan, owner of Obstacle Brewing and Grill. "There's pre-made signs available through the county website, so we'll just post those to give people a heads up."