Face masks will be mandatory in all indoor public places in Pitkin County for anyone 2 years of age and older, regardless of vaccination status starting Thursday, county public health officials said on Wednesday.
Businesses or facilities that choose to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for employees and guests may be granted an exemption to ordering indoor masks if they are approved as a fully vaccinated facility by the department. County of Pitkin Public Health.
The decree, which comes into force Thursday at 12:01 am, does not apply to private residences.
“By adopting an order for indoor masks now, we can conserve our healthcare system resources, protect the health of our community, and have the best chance of preventing hugely impacting capacity and social distancing restrictions in the future. “, Jordana Sabella, county public health director, said in a press release.
For those who might view the mask’s tenure – after the JAS Labor Day concerts in Snowmass and the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen – as punishing locals now that tourists are mostly gone, the Pitkin County manager Jon Peacock pointed out that officials have been “telegraphing” the possibility of a mask warrant since midsummer.
“Masks are not a punishment,” he told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “These are protections. These are mandates in place to protect our local community. It starts with a mask.
At its monthly meeting last week, the Pitkin County Board of Health last week ordered Sabella to draft an order for indoor masks for public spaces by this week if the number of COVID cases- 19 was not decreasing. They haven’t and have even increased over the past seven days.
“We weren’t expecting anything rushed to change,” Dave Ressler, CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital, said at the press conference on Wednesday. “We haven’t seen any significant change.”
Pitkin County’s incidence rate reached 298 per 100,000 people on Monday – nearly three times the transmission rate the Centers for Disease Control considers “high” and the highest to date in the delta wave of cases , according to Pitkin County COVID-19 online statistics dashboards. The rate fell back to 276 on Tuesday, although this was the highest rate in the past two weeks.
The county has recorded 61 new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, including 49 residents and 12 cases outside the county, according to online dashboards. The daily number of new cases in the county has hovered between around 40 and 50 for residents over the past two weeks, while the number of out-of-county cases has remained around 10 to 15 per day over the same period. .
The latest COVID-19-related death occurred over the weekend at Aspen Valley hospital, when a fully vaccinated elderly person died, sources said. A total of five residents of Pitkin County have died from the virus since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Despite the death of a fully vaccinated person, public health officials have continued to urge people to get vaccinated, which they say offer the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death.
The board of health action a week ago also followed AVH’s decision to switch from “comfortable” to “safe” for the first time in months. As of Wednesday, the cautious designation remained in place, with between six and 10 essential health workers absent with COVID-like symptoms, between six and 10 average daily visits of COVID patients and 25% to 50% of hospital and transfer capacity. hospitalized patients.
Public health and AVH officials decided to stay at a cautious level in a meeting on Wednesday, Sabella and Ressler said. A main part of that decision was the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to transfer COVID-19 patients who need a higher level of care to hospitals in Denver and Grand Junction, Sabella said.
As of Friday, only 12% of intensive care beds were available statewide, Ressler said.
“Obviously the capacity issues at the system level are significant,” he said, noting that although AVH was able to transfer a patient over the weekend, he remained concerned about these capacity issues.
One of AVH’s four intensive care beds was occupied by a COVID-19 patient on Wednesday, while another was occupied by a non-COVID patient, Ressler said.
The CDC has recommended universal interior masking since July 27, when it warned that the delta variant of COVID-19 was twice as contagious as the alpha variant. Pitkin County public health officials backed the advice, although indoor mask wear is spotty at best in Aspen and across the county and state.
Pitkin County becomes the fourth county in Colorado to implement an indoor mask warrant, behind Boulder, San Juan, and San Miguel counties, after Governor Jared Polis lifted an indoor mask warrant at statewide in May.
In Pitkin County, the new ordinance will require masks indoors during times of high and substantial transmission. Once the rate drops to moderate or low levels for 21 consecutive days, the mask requirement will automatically revert to a recommendation. If cases were to reach substantial or high transmission levels again for five consecutive days, the mask requirement would again come into effect until the transmission level drops again, according to the press release.
High transmission means an incidence rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 population, while significant transmission is considered to occur when the rate is between 50 and 99 cases, according to CDC guidelines. Moderate transmission is defined as an incidence rate between 10 and 49 cases, and low transmission occurs when 10 or less cases per 100,000 population are detected.
Masks will be required in public transportation, in public and private offices, retail stores, restaurants, bars, event centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers and any other indoor space that allows the general public to declared the county. Masks are not compulsory outside.
“Public health also recommends that businesses and facilities move their activities outdoors where possible, or increase ventilation by opening windows and doors, running the HVAC, or installing portable air filters. “, says the press release. “Second only after vaccination, adopting an indoor mask prescription is an extremely effective tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and setting a universal expectation for mask wear throughout the community. “
Businesses and facilities that want to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for employees and guests or customers so that indoor masks are not needed can start approaching the Pitkin County Public Health Department. October 11. Further details are pending.
“This is a voluntary program that allows companies to develop their own policies to encourage and require vaccinations while meeting their specific demographic, community and business needs,” the statement said. “All businesses must receive explicit approval as a fully immunized facility approved by the Pitkin County Public Health.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Sabella said the public health department will not collect vaccine information for employees of companies applying to the program. They will, however, seek a detailed policy on how this information is communicated, collected and stored securely, she said. Sabella suggested that companies consult legal counsel to find the best individual plan.
The exact criteria for the program will be posted on the Pitkin County COVID-19 website in the coming weeks, she said. Companies will be able to apply for the program online.
Businesses or facilities that already require guests and employees to provide proof of vaccination and are considering pursuing this policy can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get an exception to the mask order.
More information on ordering masks can be found at https://covid19.pitkincounty.com/mask-recommendations/#details.