Colorado ends mask rule for many indoor spaces

With proof of vaccination, masks also not required in prisons, health care facilities; schools set own rules


After 10 months of living under a statewide mask order, Coloradans saw a major step toward ending the requirement to wear masks in public spaces announced by Gov. Jared Polis, who made a point of emphasizing his maskless appearance.

“Today, I got to walk into our press briefing room without a mask, and it feels wonderful,” Polis, who is fully vaccinated, said during a May 14 news conference.

The governor announced changes to Colorado's mask order following updated guidance by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of May 13 that says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by law or regulations, or local business and workplace guidance.

“This has been a long, hard year for Coloradans, and it ain't over yet, but we're almost there,” said Polis, who added that while the pandemic isn't done, vaccinated Coloradans can begin approaching it differently.

Colorado is making a move from a mask-wearing requirement to “guidance,” Polis said. That means for those not vaccinated yet, state officials suggest — “not order, but suggest,” Polis said — that they continue to wear a mask in indoor settings around others.

In some settings, Colorado will still require masks unless people can prove they are vaccinated. Those include prisons and jails, health care facilities, and schools, Polis said.

Businesses will choose whether to require masks on their own, and Polis anticipated that many will continue to ask that customers wear masks for entry.

“I'm going to bring my mask in my pocket, and when asked, of course, as a matter of respect, I'll put it on,” Polis said, noting that may be the case in grocery stores. Some businesses may have worker safety in mind for those that haven't been vaccinated yet, Polis added.

Decision falls to schools

In school settings, vaccinated Coloradans — including children who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — may remove masks where the teachers or caregivers have provided proof of fully completed vaccination to their employer. But ultimately, allowing students and teachers to go maskless will be up to school districts, according to a fact sheet on the mask order.

When asked about school officials who say they're not allowed to inquire about vaccination status, Polis said only people who can demonstrate they're vaccinated can go without masks.

“If the teacher chooses to demonstrate they are vaccinated, they'll no longer need to wear masks,” Polis said.

Proving vaccination status

The governor briefly touched on the debate over COVID-19 “vaccine passports” — paper or digital forms certifying that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 — saying Colorado officials do not believe there's “any comprehensive way” to have a state vaccine passport system.

“It violates people's privacy — there's no practical way to implement it,” Polis said, noting some establishments may ask for vaccination status and some may have an “honor system.”

An earlier update to Colorado's mask order on May 2 had said people are permitted to remove their masks in certain indoor spaces if 80% of the people in the space have shown proof of vaccination. That exemption did not apply in places including schools, child care centers, indoor children's camps, public-facing state government facilities, prisons and health care settings, according to the governor's office.

A person can show proof of vaccination by showing their vaccination card, a picture of the vaccination card on a cell phone or a copy of their immunization records, according to the governor's office.

In July of last year, Polis signed Colorado's first statewide mask order generally requiring masks to be worn in all public indoor spaces. The governor has extended the order every 30 days since then, according to a state fact sheet.

Transportation, exemptions

Individuals 10 years old and younger and those who “cannot medically tolerate” a face covering are exempt from the mask order.

See the order’s text here for a full list of exemptions and for a full list of where masks are still required unless people can prove they are vaccinated.

People still must wear masks on public transportation. Federal law says that people must wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations, according to the fact sheet. That is true for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Large indoor events still limited

On the heels of the state's COVID-19 “dial” of restrictions expiring in mid-April, Colorado issued a public health order that maintains some limits on large indoor gatherings.

Under the order, event venues may apply to their local public health agency for a “variance,” or permission, to exceed 500 people, which needs to be finally approved by the state public-health department.

Polis on May 14 announced the state is extending that public health order to June 1.

“I expect this will be one of the final if not the final phaseout of these mechanisms,” Polis said.

Colorado, COVID-19, mask, order, mandate, vaccination, Ellis Arnold


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