Outside Tri-County Health Department’s administrative office at 6162 S. Willow Drive in Greenwood Village. The agency serves more than 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. (Ellis Arnold, Colorado Community Media)

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Public health officials for Tri-County, representing three suburban Denver counties, voted Tuesday to require students aged 2 to 11 to wear masks in schools. Staff who work with these students must also wear masks.

The motion, which the Tri-County Board of Health passed in a split vote following heated public comment, directs the agency to write the mask mandate to take effect by Aug. 23. Tri-County comprises Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties. Should any of those individual counties opt out of the requirement, it would be up to school districts to decide whether to follow the order.

Dr. Thomas Fawell, the Board of Health member who presented the motion that passed, said that while he understands that federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups recommend universal masking in schools, local data is less worrisome than in other areas of the country where COVID-19 vaccination rates remain low.

“While we do have an increase in cases, which puts us in what they have termed a high transmission area, our cases and our transmission don’t equal hospitalizations or deaths,” Fawell said.

Tri-County covers 15 school districts surrounding Denver, all with varying mask policies. In response to Tri-County considering a mandate, the Adams 12, Aurora, and Cherry Creek districts all strengthened their mask requirements related to younger children but did not require them for all students and staff.

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Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Bureau Chief — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: emeltzer@chalkbeat.org

Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat

Reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: yrobles@chalkbeat.org