By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver will announce Tuesday that it will join several other counties in the metro area with an indoor mask mandate. It will join Jefferson County, and the two remaining counties of Tri-County Health — Adams County and Arapahoe County — to initiate a return to indoor masking on Wednesday.

The move was not met with excitement, but a collective groan, from not only mask opponents, but health experts who loathe being in the position of having to re-institute the ban due to the delta variant and the large portion of the population remaining unvaccinated putting pressure on the hospitals.

“I still think it’s likely the best public health practice to do it,” said Greg Deranleau, President of the Jefferson County Board of Public Health. “A strong economy is good public health also. Doing nothing, I think, turns us into a place where ultimately … our businesses will suffer more if we do nothing than if we take action.”

But some in business don’t like the idea. In Denver, skate and snowboard shop owner Graeme Jensen said, “I’ve always been a big supporter of doing whatever you choose to do … So if you would like to come in here and wear a mask, by all means please come in here and wear a mask, but I don’t like being told that I need to wear one.”

He thought it would affect other businesses like restaurants, however not his own.

“We’re an outdoor kind of business, so people want to get out on the mountains , get out on the sidewalks, skateparks. I feel like they’ll come in regardless.”

Boulder and Larimer Counties have had indoor mask mandates in place again for many weeks. Boulder’s has been since the beginning of September.

Mask use increased after the mandate to 80%, says Boulder County Health, while the metro area stayed at between 40% and 60%. Health experts repeated Monday that masks prevent the spread of disease.

“I want people to understand that masks do help with reducing transmission,” said Dr. Carrie Horn, chief medical officer for National Jewish Health. “Especially when people may or may not know that they have the infection yet so if you’re asymptomatic or pre symptomatic.”

That is often when the disease is shared.

“Masks are really going to help drop that droplet count.”

Jefferson County Public Health’s meeting about the mandate was met with protests by mask opponents.

“I certainly wish that we did not end up back here again I am not totally surprised,” said Dr. Horn. “Especially going into winter, when people are kind of congregating more in smaller areas indoors.”

Treatments for COVID-19 are improving but deaths are reaching new levels as hospitals fill to capacity and over from a combination of COVID cases, delayed medical care and other medical emergencies.

“I think it will help and at this point,” said Horn about the return of masking. “I will take anything that will help, right? Vaccines help. Masks help.”

Many local health officials want the governor to step in and make the indoor masking mandatory statewide. Last week, the governor and the Department of Public Health and Environment moved to require proof of vaccination at large, unseated indoor events like receptions. But the Metro Denver Partnership for Health also asked the governor to require vaccine passports in high-risk indoor settings like bars, restaurants, gyms and sporting events. In addition, the group also asked the governor for a return to a statewide indoor masking requirement, an action he has not yet taken.

“Having a statewide mandate would just make it more consistent and you wouldn’t have to guess where you’re going, am I going to have to wear my mask or not just plan on wearing the mask indoors and I think that consistency is really helpful,” said Dr. Horn.

The counties adding the masking mandates with votes Monday, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe, will start requiring them again on Wednesday. Businesses will be able to voluntarily seek certification to go mask free, if they have a vaccinated workforce and will agree to check if customers too are vaccinated.

(credit: CBS)

In Boulder County, a similar program has led to over 250 businesses being certified to go without masks.
The regulations will stay in place in the two counties remaining in the Tri-County Health department (Adams and Arapahoe) and in Jefferson County until there are large reductions in ICU bed capacity for at least two weeks (three weeks in Jefferson County).

Alan Gionet