JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – All residents of and visitors to Jefferson County over age 4, with some health-related exemptions, will have to wear face coverings in most public settings starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday after the county health department issued a public health order Tuesday afternoon.
Jeffco is the latest metro-area health department to require the face coverings, which have become more and more of a political flashpoint in Colorado as many counties and municipalities mandate their use due to science-based evidence they help restrict the spread of the virus, while others decry what they believe is government overreach on personal liberties.
“As cases have started to increase sharply across the Denver Metro Area and in Jefferson County, we are looking at the tools we have to prevent the surges that are happening in other parts of our country, including bordering states, from happening here,” said Dr. Mark B. Johnson, Executive Director at JCPH. “While we have always strongly encouraged our residents to wear face coverings, we are joining others in the Denver Metro Area to take it a step further and make them mandatory.”
Jefferson County’s mask mandate will require residents above age 4 to wear a mask or face covering whenever they are in public and cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Jeffco residents will not have to wear them when inside private residences or within their personal vehicle when driving alone or with household members.
There are also exemptions for when people are working alone in a single enclosed space, for when they would create unsafe working conditions, for when a person’s health would inhibit them from wearing one (if they have documentation), for the hearing impaired if lip-reading is necessary, in certain first responder emergencies and in certain other situations, like when eating and drinking at a restaurant.
Jefferson County Public Health says it will “seek voluntary compliance through education, technical assistance and warning notices,” but that the order “may be enforced by any legal means.”
People who violate the law could face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in county jail, the order says. Businesses that allow people to come inside without necessary face coverings could be subject to having its license suspended or revoked.
The order will be in effect from 5 p.m. on Tuesday until 6 a.m. next Wednesday but can be extended, rescinded, superseded or amended.
JCPH says there has been “a large increase” in COVID-19 cases in the county since mid-June – seeing 230 new cases last week and increasing hospitalizations.
Gov. Jared Polis again reiterated Tuesday that he was trying several different messaging strategies to increase voluntary mask-wearing statewide and again did not rule out a statewide mask mandate – which some Coloradans have vehemently called for and others staunchly oppose despite public health experts saying that more and more data show that masks cut down on person-to-person spread of the virus.
“Evidence shows that when more people wear a mask, transmission of COVID-19 can be reduced, which means fewer people become ill with the virus and we can continue to rebuild our economy,” Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said Tuesday.
Polis said again Tuesday that increased mask wearing in Colorado is among the “keys” to stopping the gradual increase here from moving back to exponential growth, as it was in April.
He said he has struggled between respecting bodily autonomy for Coloradans and acknowledging that masks are meant to stop the spread of the virus to other people, not just keep on person from getting it themselves. But he added, as he has in recent weeks regarding similar questions, that the state does not have a mechanism to enforce a statewide mandate on a local level, which is why he has supported the local-level mandates.
Polis said he and his teams were working to gather data to show whether or not a statewide mask mandate increases mask wearing as one option before making a full decision on a statewide mask mandate.