Gov. Jared Polis really, really wants you to wear a mask. In fact, he thinks you’re being stupid if you don’t put one on when you’re out in public.
He just doesn’t want to force you to cover your nose and mouth — at least not yet.
As a growing number of states and Colorado counties and cities require mask-wearing, Polis has stopped short of issuing a statewide mandate requiring Coloradans to put on a face covering when they are out and about.
In mid-May, the governor issued an order requiring workers at essential Colorado businesses and critical government jobs to wear masks. But leaders in other states — both Democrats and Republicans — have gone a step further in recent weeks to require mask wearing for everyone any time they are in public and cannot practice social distancing.
The new requirements come as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising across the nation, including in Colorado. The state reported 452 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday and the percentage of people tested who test positive for the virus reached its highest level — 5.1% — since June 1 on Tuesday. Coronavirus hospitalizations, at 184 on Wednesday, are at their highest level since June 8.
In lieu of Polis’ action, cities and counties have issued their own requirements.
Denver, Boulder, Routt and Summit counties have all enacted mask-wearing requirements. Violators face fines and even jail time.
On Wednesday, the Tri-County Health Department followed those counties’ lead by moving to require mask-wearing in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. The order, however, will allow local leaders to opt their counties or towns out and it’s not clear how it will be enforced.
“Everybody should be wearing a mask across the Tri-County area,” said Julie Mullica, a member of Tri-County’s board and an infectious disease expert who voted for the order, according to The Aurora Sentinel.
A number of cities have also enacted mask mandates, including Wheat Ridge, Glenwood Springs, Lone Tree, Fort Collins, Estes Park and Aspen.
Studies have shown that mask wearing can significantly reduce spread of the coronavirus. But it only truly works if everyone is donning a face covering. People who are wearing masks are less likely to spread the disease. But face coverings are not as good at preventing someone from getting ill from someone who is infectious and isn’t wearing one.
“The science clearly shows that the more people who wear masks, the faster our economic reopening can safely occur and the more freedom and mobility we have,” said Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis. “We’ve got to crush this virus in Colorado and wearing masks in public is one of the most effective tools we have.”
The governor’s office says Polis supports municipal and county mask rules. And he’s done just about everything you can do to encourage mask wearing without making the leap to require that they be worn.
The governor’s office has launched a public service campaign, including a video ad and billboards, urging people to cover their faces. He’s made a point of wearing a mask during news conferences and public health briefings. The Democrat handed out masks to reporters and photographers in April when he asked Coloradans to wear a covering whenever they left their homes, soliciting children to participate in a mask-designing contest.
Polis even signed an executive order ensuring businesses know they have the ability to refuse service to a customer who won’t wear a mask.
“It’s stupid not to wear a mask,” he said at a June 30 news conference.
But Polis has shown a libertarian streak during his tenure, apparently uneasy about forcing regulations upon individual Coloradans.
For instance, when areas of the U.S. began shutting down as the pandemic began earlier this year, he waited before issuing a stay-at-home order. He was then one of the first governors to lift the mandate, calling his own restrictions “draconian.”
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania are among the more than 20 states that have enacted some sort of mask-wearing requirement. Even Texas, where cases are spiking after officials were slower to react to the virus, requires mask-wearing in public in any county where there are 20 or more active coronavirus cases.