As three metro Denver counties enact some version of a mask requirement this week, Gov. Jared Polis reiterated during a Tuesday COVID-19 update that a statewide order is not in the cards.
Instead, he has lobbed that responsibility to local leaders.
“I’ve been clear that it’s not something we’re considering as a state, so if communities want to wear masks, they can implement that,” he told reporters.
He repeated a previously expressed line of thinking that mask requirements should be made at the local level by elected leaders and public health departments because of the “diversity” in thinking across the state on the issue.
“We’re excited to work with every county across the state, recognizing that we’re a very diverse state. I have great respect for the county health departments in all parts of this state, whether in El Paso County and Douglas County or Denver and Jefferson counties. All have to function within the social license of the area they represent,” he said.
It’s a chance for people to “reflect their local values,” in deciding whether to implement a mask requirement for indoor settings as COVID-19 cases in the state rise.
The health authorities of three metro Denver counties — Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson — voted Monday to require adults and most children to wear a mask in indoor public spaces beginning this week. On Tuesday, the city of Denver announced a similar requirement, but will allow an exemption for businesses that can prove a 95% vaccination rate of people in their buildings.
Those actions were a response to the state being unwilling to act on masks, even as multiple groups are urging Polis to implement a statewide mandate.
Denver and those three counties now join Boulder, Larimer and Pitkin counties in having an indoor mask mandate.
Polis said that Colorado is in a different situation in this COVID-19 surge than it was last year, when there was no widely available vaccine, and that’s a large reason he won’t call for a statewide mandate.
Medical experts assert that masks are are effective in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.
As of Nov. 22, there were 1,565 confirmed COVID-19 patients in the hospital, 83% of whom were unvaccinated, according to state data. Polis said he views the state’s role as managing hospital capacity and anticipating need.
“For our part as a state, we are taking the action to be ready, whatever the decisions of local health departments are,” he said. That includes upping hospital bed capacity, making monoclonal antibody treatments available and encouraging vaccination and boosters.