In a 2-1 vote in a May 11 business meeting, the Douglas County commissioners approved a resolution attempting to reject the state’s latest update to the mask mandate.
The resolution states that the board will “not require masks or mandate proof of vaccination for the use of any board controlled indoor space,” according to the resolution.
The implications of this resolution, which is out of step with a state public health order, are somewhat unclear.
Gov. Jared Polis' order, which was put in place May 2 and lasts until at least June 2, stated that masks could be removed indoors in select situations, including if 80% of people present were vaccinated. That rule appears to be based on an “honor code” system where customers volunteer their status without necessarily showing a proof of vaccination card, said Dr. John Douglas, head of Tri-County Health Department.
Commissioner Lora Thomas was the dissenting vote in the resolution. In her public comments, she stated that while she doesn’t like masks, she doesn’t think it’s a good idea for the county to tell residents they don’t need to follow a state mandate.
“There is going to be even more confusion in Douglas County about when someone does need to wear a mask and when they don’t,” she said. “Commissioners do not have the ability to legally override that of the governor.”
Commissioners George Teal and Abe Laydon, who approved the resolution, focused on the improving COVID-19 metrics in the county, such as high vaccination rates and low hospitalizations, in their public comments.
“Enough is enough, the pandemic is over,” Laydon said.
Laydon added that the 80% rule would create confusion and difficulties for businesses, who would be charged with determining how many people in their space have been vaccinated.
“I really believe it is time for us to take this stand,” Teal said.
One part of the resolution clarifies that the resolution only states that no retributions will come from the county.
"The board does not wish to mislead any person or business with regard to how the state may wish to enforce or not enforce its Mask Order and that repercussions from the state could ensue," according to the resolution.
Thomas also expressed concern for the implications of this resolution for county departments and local businesses who wish to follow the state mandate. Some county officials, who reached out to the board expressing concern over the resolution, said they hadn't been aware of the commissioners vote until very recently, Thomas said.
Merlin Klotz, the county clerk and recorder, was one of those officials. While Klotz believes that, based on the local COVID-19 data, there is minimal need for mask-wearing, he still plans to require it for his approximate 100 employees and “strongly encourage” it for the public, he said in an interview with Colorado Community Media.
“From my perspective as a department head (and) as an elected official, my people and the public do not know that data,” he said. “The public doesn’t know these facts so to put this out as a policy is too abrupt.”
In the business meeting, Laydon proposed an amendment to the initial resolution, which originally said that the entire county no longer required mask wearing. Instead, the board decided to change the language to say the board would not require masks in any of the indoor spaces they operate.
The health and human services and assessor's offices will also continue to require mask-wearing, according to a county spokesperson.
"I will continue to follow state law," said Lisa Frizell, the county assessor, in a statement through a county spokesperson. "I am committed to the safety of my employees who are public servants working directly with customers just as I'm committed to the safety of our customers transacting business with the Assessor's Office."
Teal added in his public comments that the idea behind the resolution is to give residents and businesses the freedom to choose for themselves.
“If you believe that is what is needed for you to look after your own health, by all means, please wear a mask,” he said. “If you do not wish to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask.”
Douglas of Tri County said his concern is that the resolution could confuse residents about an already confusing situation.
The mask mandate is a part of a state public health order, which is not a discretionary thing that a county can opt out of, Douglas said.
“If residents of the county have been confused, I don’t think this helps that confusion,” Douglas said.
Douglas agrees that the state’s latest mask order was extremely confusing and that it’s already not heavily-enforced, Douglas said.
Tri-County, which is charged with that enforcement, takes complaints they hear from the public and contacts entities to ask if they have enforced mask-wearing and tried to remedy any situation where it hasn’t taken place, Douglas said.
Barring complaints from the public on the county’s decision not to enforce mask wearing, Tri-County would discuss “appropriate steps” with the state health department before taking any action against the county, Douglas said.
The other situations in which masks can be removed include if there are nine or fewer people present and if a restaurant’s staff has an 85% vaccination rate, the workers can remove masks. In that scenario, customers are still required to wear masks indoors.
“I think we ought to be talking about vaccines,” Douglas said. “And how to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
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