DENVER – Indoor mask requirements took effect Wednesday in four metro Denver counties just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The new mandates are in place in Denver, Arapahoe, Adams and Jefferson counties after their health departments approved new public health orders earlier this week aimed at helping reduce the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19.
Mandates are also in effect in Boulder and Larimer counties along the Front Range. Public health and health care officials said Tuesday, as Denver announced its new requirements, that they decided regional actions were necessary as the state and governor have declined to put a mask requirement back in place across Colorado.
The requirements for Denver, Arapahoe and Adams counties apply to people ages 2 and up, while Jefferson County’s order applies to people ages 3 and up. Boulder’s mask requirement applies to people ages 2 and up and Larimer’s does for ages 3 and up.
Broncos fans will also have to wear masks in the indoor parts of Empower Field at Mile High, including at the team store, inside bathrooms, elevators and club and suite corridors.
Denver’s public health order allows businesses to not require masks if they require proof that at least 95% of guests and workers inside are fully vaccinated. All of the mandates have exemptions for certain groups.
The other counties with new mask requirements are also working on implementing vaccine passport programs for local businesses.
The requirements will be in effect at least until early January.
Local public health officials pointed this week to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that is threatening hospital capacity across the state as reason to put the requirements in place for at least the next month.
As of Tuesday, 84% of the 1,576 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Colorado hospitalized were not vaccinated despite unvaccinated people being the minority in the state.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Wednesday there were 645 hospital beds available across the state but added that there could be a plateau occurring with new cases, though they are looking to see more data with the Thanksgiving holiday this week.
"This isn't the time to assume things are getting better," said CDPHE Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France. "We have to do everything we can to protect hospitals."
The public health officials said the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations has been led by unvaccinated people.
“Let’s be clear about why we’re doing this. This is not a failure in Denver. It’s not a failure of the public health system. We are here today because too many people chose not to get vaccinated even though they are eligible,” Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said Tuesday. “…Hospitals are filling up with those of you who have chosen not to get vaccinated.”
But Gov. Jared Polis said firmly Tuesday what he has mostly hinted at in recent weeks – that he would not be ordering a statewide mask mandate despite requests from metro-area public health officials.
“We’re excited to work with every county across the state recognizing we are a very diverse state. And I have great respect for the county health departments in all parts of the state – whether you’re in El Paso County and Douglas County, or Denver and Jefferson County – and all have to function within the social license of the areas they have to represent,” Polis said.