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Colorado health departments determining next steps for masks

COVID-19 mask generic
Posted at 6:25 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 20:24:59-04

DENVER — After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines for wearing masks indoors, Colorado health departments are trying to figure out what their next steps should be.

In a reversal from guidance issued a little more than two months ago, the federal agency announced Tuesday it was now recommending that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, continue wearing masks in indoor settings in parts of the country where there is “substantial” or “high” transmission of the virus.

In a statement, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment continues to push for more people to get vaccinated, saying 70% of adults in the state have receive a shot and that Coloroado is in a better position overall than it was last year.

However, CDPHE said it has reached out to the CDC to request a briefing on the science behind the new guidance changes. Denver is also urging more people to get vaccinated.

“We respect this guidance and encourage individuals and businesses to make the decision about wearing a face covering that is best for them. The COVID-19 vaccines protect against severe illness from the virus. For those who are vaccinated, a mask can provide additional protection, and for some people, might provide peace of mind,” said Bob McDonald, the executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment in a statement.

Jefferson County and Tri-County Public Health, meanwhile, are reviewing the guidelines and figuring out what to do next. Jefferson County Public Health said it wholeheartedly supports mask-wearing as a precaution for anyone in an indoor public space, regardless of their vaccination status.

Tri-County said it’s waiting on the official publication and subsequent comments from CDPHE before making any decisions but said all three of the counties it represents would be considered “substantial” zones of transmission under the updated guidance and so the mask guidelines would apply.

Tri-County is also working with school districts to help them understand the guidance and says it supports mask-wearing.

In Broomfield, while the health department is recommending masks indoors, it is not requiring them.

Weld County, however, is taking a different position. In a short statement, the health department said it is not considering any changes to its current COVID-19 policies when it comes to masking.

Along with masks, the CDC has offered additional guidance this month for long-term care facilities. The state is in the process of updating its rules to align with the new federal guidelines.

At the Highline Rehabilitation and Care Community, masks never went away. The facility, part of the Vivage Senior Living group, is in the process of implementing the new guidance for long-term care facilities.

“The main new guideline is that every new unvaccinated staff member before they come into work needs to have a rapid test,” said Dr. Gregory Gahm, the chief medical officer for Vivage Senior Living. “In addition to that, every shift test we do PCR testing once a week for all the unvaccinated people.”

Unvaccinated employees are not allowed to enter the facilities until they have presented a negative COVID-19 test each day.

Unvaccinated reesidents who leave the facility are also required to undergo testing upon their return.

The state is currently in the process of distributing all the necessary testing supplies and training for the facilities on how to use them but Dr. Gahm expects that all long-term care facilities will be complying with the new regulations within the next two weeks.

He’s also in support of mandating vaccines among all health care workers. Gahm says he has been pushing for the state to mandate the vaccine to certain workers for months and that Vivage Senior Living is considering it.

However, with the current health care worker shortage, he cannot afford to lose more staff members.

“We are right now most facilities hospitals included bare bones staff. A lot of people have already left, and it’s hard to get staff. We can’t hire staff — they’re hard to fine. If we lose 10% or 20% more because they just don’t want to be vaccinated and you mandate it, it could be crippling,” he said.

For now, their facilities will hold off on vaccine mandates as they, local health departments and the state try to work through the latest CDC recommendations.