Gov. Polis announces statewide mask order in Colorado

Intensive care beds could exceed capacity by September at current rate of infection

Gov. Jared Polis announces a statewide mask order in response to COVID-19 during a news briefing on July 16, 2020. (Governor Jared Polis Facebook)

All Coloradans older than 10 will be required to wear masks while in public starting at midnight July 16, Gov. Jared Polis announced today at a news briefing.

Exceptions include when eating at a restaurant, exercising alone, receiving a beard trim or facial, speaking to a TV audience, and showing your face for identification purposes. Also, public safety personnel, religious officiants and those who can’t medically tolerate a face covering don’t need to wear one.

The order will be in effect for 30 days or until Gov. Polis rescinds it, a spokesperson from the state Emergency Operations Center confirmed.

“My response or Colorado’s response is driven by data and not by politics on any side,” Polis, a Democrat, said before introducing the order. He added that he hoped that Coloradans would see rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations as a “wake-up call.”

Polis cited state data that showed areas with mask orders in place had significantly lower virus transmission than those without mandates.

“That is an incredibly important data point for me in making this statewide,” he said.

At the current rate of coronavirus transmission, need for Colorado’s intensive care beds could exceed capacity by September, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s top epidemiologist.

Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows 260 people hospitalized July 16 with confirmed COVID-19 — up from 202 on July 9.

CDPHE will not issue any variances — through which cities and counties can receive exemptions from state public health requirements — for at least two weeks, Polis said.

The governor also announced that the state plans to provide one medical-grade mask per teacher per week to school districts.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, a Republican, who took part in the briefing with Polis, said he had initially been opposed to the mask order but decided to support it based on rising case numbers. He emphasized that Coloradans shouldn’t consider covering their faces as a “hardship.”

“I meet with small businesses every day that haven’t been able to open up and then if things get worse, will have their businesses shuttered again. That’s a hardship,” Coffman said. “Children not being able to go to school? That’s a hardship.”

The new order requires people to cover their nose and mouth inside public indoor spaces, including businesses, or while waiting for public transportation. It allows law enforcement agencies to cite people under trespassing laws. Furthermore, businesses that violate the order could have their licenses revoked.

The statewide order doesn’t supersede local orders at the city and county level that include stricter requirements.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the city, in enforcing its own pre-existing mask mandate, tries to encourage voluntary compliance.

“The reality is, this is not a criminal thing. We’re not trying to do criminal compliance. It’s civil,” he said, adding that people who do wear a mask are showing they care about others.

Unlike many governors from both major parties in states across the country, Polis had previously avoided implementing a statewide mask mandate.

At a press briefing July 14, he stopped short of taking the leap.

“I believe in bodily autonomy. I believe that people should make their own choices,” Polis said. He added that Coloradans needed to “balance our sincere belief in liberty and bodily autonomy with the understanding that these decisions affect others.”

Republican state Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, the House minority leader, declared his opposition on Twitter.

“The Governor is on a power trip and IMO his mask mandate is a clear violation of our civil liberties,” he said. “I’ve retained counsel with the intent to sue. Stay tuned.”

Through July 15, Colorado has had 38,726 cases of COVID-19, and 1,615 people have died due to COVID-19, according to CDPHE. In total, 1,745 people with COVID-19 have died in Colorado, though not all deaths were directly attributed to the disease.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the mask order applies to people older than 10, as is specified in the order, rather than people 10 and older, as the governor stated during a news briefing.