DENVER — Masks are now required at all indoor Denver businesses and venues unless they choose to require proof of vaccination, Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced Tuesday morning.
The order goes into effect Wednesday and will continue through Jan. 3, 2022.
Hancock made the announcement alongside Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE), and regional public health directors.
Hancock said regional protective actions have become necessary to reduce the pressure on hospitals. Therefore, in partnership with other metro counties, Denver will issue a public health order requiring masks in indoor settings for most businesses and venues for everybody 2 years old and up. If those locations do not want to require masks, they may implement a vaccine check before entry. In the latter case, masks are not required as long as they can verify at least 95% of the people in the facility are fully vaccinated.
This new order — which Hancock called the "vax or mask mandate" — will keep Denverites safe, especially as the holidays approach and more people travel to the city, he said.
"Let me be clear — we're not here because what we've done in Denver and the region hasn't worked. Quite the opposite," he said. "If other communities in Colorado and around the country took the affirmative steps we have taken around vaccines, the pandemic would be under control. But we will do what needs to be done to assure that we get through the next 45 days without having a break in our hospital capacity — a break the state and the governor have made clear could risk lives."
Denver's vaccination rate is "stellar," Hancock said, noting that just under 70% of all Denverites are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 76% have had at least one dose. Communities across the metro area are showing similar numbers, he said.
Other parts of the state don't have as high a rate, and hospitalized unvaccinated people are putting stress on hospital systems statewide, Hancock said, as those individuals are transferred to metro area hospitals to alleviate pressure in their local systems.
"If we don't reduce this stress now, the impacts on capacity will mean those who need care — whether they have COVID or something else — could see that care being reduced or even rationed and that will cost lives," Hancock said.
As of Tuesday morning, 1,565 people are in Colorado hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 83% are unvaccinated. In hospitals statewide, 95% of ICU beds are in use. The seven-day average of beds in use is 94%, according to data from the CDPHE.
McDonald said the direct reason Denver had to issue this mandate is that too many people chose not to get vaccinated despite being eligible for it.
"We acknowledge there are going to be breakthrough cases," he said. "The more unvaccinated people we have, the more breakthrough cases we will have. But hospitals are filling up by those of you have chosen not to get vaccinated. And to suggest the vaccines don't work because some who were vaccinated are still in the hospital — that's like suggesting seat belts don't work because some people who wear seat belts and get into an accident still had to go to the hospital."
McDonald echoed Hancock's earlier statements that the region has stepped up to do its part. He said the state needs all communities to step up and get vaccinated.
To date in Colorado, 45,915 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19.
Currently, there are three public health measures in place that affect Denver: the city's vaccine mandate, this new face covering mandate, and the state's proof of vaccine requirement for large venues.
Since then, several counties across Colorado have reinstated mask mandates.
Most recently, on Monday, the Jefferson County Board of Health adopted a new public health order that requires people ages 3 and up to wear a mask while indoors, and the Tri-County Health Department voted to approve a similar mandate that applies to people ages 2 and up.
Broomfield County issued a public health order that requires people ages 2 and up to wear masks in all City and County of Broomfield facilities. People who are fully vaccinated can opt out if they show proof of being fully vaccinated. The order will be in effect from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31.
"Thank you to Broomfield's local businesses and nonprofits who have voluntarily stepped up to strongly encourage or require masks indoors, and allow fully vaccinated individuals to opt out with proof of vaccination," the city and county said in a news release. "If at any time the data indicates a need for more or less mitigation measures, Broomfield is prepared to act swiftly in response."
When asked about the possibility of a statewide mask mandate during a news conference later in the day, Polis once again highlighted the fact that he supports local mitigation efforts and said, unequivocally, that he will not be issuing a statewide order.
"I’ve made it clear that it’s not something that we’re considering as a state. So, if communities want to wear masks, they can implement that," Polis said, adding he believed the state would be on track to add 500 surge beds to the hospital system by the middle of December and that Colorado was working to scale up monoclonal antibody treatments to be able to hopefully administer 7,500 doses a week.
The following counties already have a mask mandate in place:
- San Juan County (reinstated Aug. 13, lifted on Sept. 10)
- Boulder County (reinstated Sept. 3)
- Pitkin County (reinstated Sept. 16)
- San Miguel County (reinstated Sept. 1)
- Larimer County (reinstated Oct. 20)
Dawn Comstock, executive director for the Jefferson County Public Health, said the virus does not know county borders.
"When there are no state orders to protect the people of Colorado, it becomes crucial for us to work together in the metro area to put into place public health orders and guidances that are consistent and uniform whenever possible to create a safer community for all in the metro Denver area," she said.
John Douglas, executive director, with the Tri-County Health Department said the metro counties have acted in sync with each other several times before in the pandemic, and over the past week, it became apparent they needed to do so again.
"The Tri-County order that was passed last night for Adams and Arapahoe County by our board of health looks very similar to the Denver order," he said. "We have tried to be as consistent as possible. We've heard from our businesses, our residents and our elected officials: 'Please do not do a patchwork. Please do it in common. Please do it as close to each other as you can.'"
The CDPHE is reminding residents and visitors that masks should be clean and fit snugly against the side of your face. To find a place to get a COVID-19 vaccine, visit the CDPHE's website here.