DENVER – The Jefferson County Board of Health could implement an indoor mask requirement as soon as Monday, the board president said Thursday, and sent a letter to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis calling on him to issue a statewide indoor mask requirement or to at least give local health departments the ability to put vaccine passports in place.
Jefferson County Board of Health President Greg Deranleau said in an interview Thursday afternoon that the board’s executive director has been working on draft language for a public health order that would include a countywide mask requirement, which the board is likely to consider at a meeting on Monday morning.
“We are considering a local countywide mask mandate. We do believe it’s really important, though, that the governor take statewide action,” Deranleau said. “As we know, this virus doesn’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. So we can have a patchwork of counties and municipalities doing their own thing. But we really believe it’s going to be stronger when it’s at the statewide level.”
The Thursday letter from the board piggybacks off two different letters sent by local public health directors, including Jefferson County’s, last week that call for the Democratic governor to put a mask mandate back in place and allow for vaccine passports. Thursday's is the latest plea to the governor to tighten restrictions amid a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,526 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Colorado and the state was down to just 69 ICU beds as the state surpassed 9,000 COVID-19 deaths.
The Jefferson County Board of Health’s Thursday letter says it received “extremely disturbing data” Wednesday showing there were 16 Jefferson County residents who died of COVID-19 last week and that the county has averaged more than a death per day since July 9, when the delta variant surge started.
Combined with the spike in hospitalizations, which public health officials have warned could be overrun next month, and there being fewer than 70 intensive care unit beds available statewide, the board called on Polis to act at the state level regarding masks – requests he has repeatedly brushed aside in recent weeks in favor of pushing for more people to get vaccinated.
“Data have consistently been provided by the Colorado State Epidemiologist outlining the growing risk to stymied economic recovery, in-person school attendance, harm to our most vulnerable citizens, continued demand on crippled health care systems and increased deaths,” the board’s letter to Polis says as reasons why they are calling for the statewide mandate.
The board is asking Polis to issue a new executive order requiring masks indoors for everyone age 2 and up regardless of their vaccination status. In lieu of a statewide order, the board is asking for “flexibility for local jurisdictions to implement mitigation procedures in certain settings, such as a vaccination passport program.”
“Governor Polis, we all need to do more to address the trends we are seeing currently and that will most likely surge in the coming weeks with holiday travel and movement indoors. Trends are going in the wrong direction and we implore you to take additional mitigation steps immediately before anyone else loses their life unnecessarily,” the board wrote to the governor. “We continue to take steps within our county to help slow the spread of the virus and we request your assistance to encourage our fellow counties to do the same. We are all in this together.”
The letter also calls on Polis to prioritize what the board calls “a stakeholder process” to come up with better ways to up the statewide vaccination rate.
Deranleau, the board of health president, said the limited hospital capacity has also been a factor in deciding whether the county will put its own mask mandate in place.
“It’s our hospitals are in crisis. Our health care providers are in burnout mode. And so the more steps that we can take to try to help and try and turn this trend back, the better,” he said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment amended a public health order Sunday that mandates vaccines for people inside large public indoor events in six metro-area counties: Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties.
But Deranleau said there are not many indoor venues like that in Jefferson County and that the board was looking at “what we can do to affect our local communities and improve the situation here.”
He said the board was meeting with the business and economic task force for the county to try to come up with a solution that doesn’t hamper businesses as Colorado heads into the holiday season.
“We don’t want to create this burden on our businesses. But at the same time, if the trends keep going the direction that they’re going, that’s going to create a significant burden on our businesses, and they’re already burdened,” Deranleau said. “So, we’re really talking about that and what can we do to improve that situation, and just really start to turn us back.”
The 14-day average hospitalization rate in Jefferson County was 2.41 per 100,000 people as of Thursday – the highest since last December, when there were restrictions in place. The seven-day average positivity rate in the county was 9.5%.
One small business owner tells Denver7 she's been encouraging masks at her indoor fitness studio for everyone sine the COVID numbers began to climb regardless of their vaccination status.
"There were people who said absolutely not, they're not wearing a mask but for the most part people were really laid-back and did what they needed to do," said Kris Briganti from Inspiration Fitness in Golden.
InFit is a small workout studio that specializes in group classes and training. Briganti says she has numerous clients who are immune compromised. Even with the masks, she has managed to keep most of her clients and is still offering virtual classes for those who do not want to come in the studio for one reason or another.
While it can be more difficult to wear a mask while working out, many of the clients have gotten used to it and Briganti says it might cause them to get even more of a cardiovascular workout.
When the state and county lifted its mask mandates, it was up to individual businesses to determine whether they would require masks indoors and how to enforce their own rules.
"It was a pain when the onus was back on us. It put all of us is as business owners in a terrible situation and I think it also confuse people, the general public because they weren’t sure where they had to wear masks," she said.
While it is inconvenient, she would support a return to a countywide mask mandate if the COVID numbers continue to worsen so that businesses won't have to close down again.
"I don’t want to see us to a point where we have to shut down again, so I will gladly wear masks and do more social distancing even restrict numbers capacity numbers in the studio," Briganti said.
Other people around Jefferson County told Denver7 they don't want to resume wearing masks, particularly if they are vaccinated. They said they are doing everything right and have followed thee rules, now it should be their choice whether to wear masks.
"I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. I suppose if you’re fully vaccinated they say the vaccine is meant to make you safe from COVID," one man told Denver7.
Ultimately, it will be up to the county's board of health, though, to determine whether a return to mask mandates is needed.
Denver7's Jon Ewing contributed to this report.