By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe Counties will re-establish indoor mask requirements on Wednesday in a turnabout in the progress against COVID-19. A statewide mask requirement was peeled off mid-year, but unvaccinated people were still asked to keep them on.

As the requirements go back into effect, businesses will have the option in all the counties of applying for a mask wearing exemption if 95% of workers and customers are vaccinated.

There’s already a similar program in Boulder County.

“We launched it at the end of September, and so far we have over 300 businesses that are participating,” said Tessa Hale, public health business liaison team lead with Boulder County Public Health.

It has three basis requirements she explained.

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“One is that they have a written policy that outlines how they will require proof of vaccinations from their customers and staff. The second is that they’re going to meet a threshold of 95% vaccination rate for those who are in their indoor facility, and then we ask what other mitigation strategies they are employing.”

That includes issues like air filtration and distancing.

“It’s helped us keep our doors open,” said Jennifer Saddoris, owner of Shred415 Boulder.

They surveyed customers before starting.

“Like 90% of them were vaccinated so for us it was like a no brainer decision, and we haven’t lost any clients and in fact it’s been quite the opposite.”

Saddoris says there’s been about a 10% increase in customers she attributes to being a workout studio requiring vaccination.

“If they haven’t been vaccinated, they can’t come into the studio.”

In Boulder County, implementing the program is made easier by the relatively high vaccination rate.

“Eighty-five percent of eligible people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, which means probably 85% of the people here would be happy to be in a fully vaccinated facility,” said Hale. “We have a lot of fitness facilities, gyms, yoga studios, breweries, hair salons.”

(credit: CBS)

Many are small offices. There are larger employers like Google in Boulder. One-time events like weddings have also met the requirements. Some businesses are considered hybrid.

“There are offices that have a public facing reception area, that area could be fully masked and then behind where it’s a keyed entry, and all of the staff has provided proof of vaccination people in the back of the house so to speak can be unmasked.”

Same for some production facilities. What there isn’t is large retailers like grocery stores. Hale recognizes it would be impractical.

“The large spaces where there’s a lot of public coming and going would be hard to implement a process to check everyone coming through that door.”

It may not work everywhere. There is also a mask requirement in Larimer County and the health department there also tried to create a program for businesses to earn an exemption.

“It did not go well,” said health department spokeswoman Kori Wilford.

Among other things, misinformation spread that it would be a requirement and people feared they would not be able to go to grocery stores without proof of vaccination. The county talked with businesses and the Chamber of Commerce about the program, but decided ultimately to pull it back soon after it started, leaving some business owners perturbed.

There wasn’t widespread support, and there were even people calling looking for the names of businesses that had applied, worrying leaders that some businesses might even be targeted.

In Denver, some businesses are already doing what is, in effect, the same work. Restaurants in the Bonanno Concepts group have been doing it since the end of September. Many offices are fully vaccinated and would likely be eligible.

It won’t likely show up in busy stores or other businesses with a lot of coming and going.

Alan Gionet