All the groups urging Gov. Jared Polis to implement a statewide mask mandate

Polis says local leaders should decide on mask requirements

By: - November 22, 2021 5:00 am

Gov. Jared Polis with state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy (left) and Colorado resident Jill Lester (right) during a COVID-19 update on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Facebook of Gov. Jared Polis)

As the holidays approach and the number of COVID-19 deaths surpasses 9,000 in Colorado, more and more public health groups and medical leaders are pressuring Gov. Jared Polis to implement a statewide mask mandate for indoor settings — but he appears reluctant to follow that advice.

One of the first to do so was the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, the professional association that represents the leadership of county-level and regional health agencies. That group sent a letter to Polis on Nov. 10 asking for a statewide masking order.

“The current surge of cases in Colorado is threatening the capacity of our healthcare system, which puts every Coloradan who may experience a health emergency or have routine health care needs at risk and can only be alleviated through statewide action,” the letter reads.


In addition to masks being an effective and low-cost way to reduce transmission, CALPHO wrote that an order would also convey to Coloradans the severity of the state’s situation.

There were 1,518 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Colorado as of Nov. 21, according to state data. Last year’s December peak, before the vaccine became widely available, was 1,847 patients. The state estimates that one in every 62 Coloradans are infected with COVID-19 as of Nov. 19.

Two days later after CALPHO’s letter, a coalition of six Denver metro-area public health agencies sent its own letter to Polis with a similar request for a mask requirement. That group also called for vaccine passports for high risk indoor settings such as sporting events, bars and restaurants, as well as further vaccine requirements for school staff and municipal employees across the state.

The signatories of that letter were the directors of the Public Health Institute at Denver Health, Jefferson County Public Health, Tri-County Health Department, the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, Boulder County Public Health and the Broomfield Department of Public Health.

“Implementing these mitigation strategies is urgently needed, in conjunction with expansion of access to no-cost monoclonal antibody treatments and other actions that relieve the health system, to protect Colorado’s already-compromised hospital capacity. These requirements must be statewide, given the statewide nature of Colorado’s shared hospital ecosystem,” the six health agency leaders wrote. 

Polis has sought to scale up the availability of monoclonal antibody treatment for people with COVID-19 before they become hospitalized.

Also on Nov. 12, San Juan Basin Public Health issued its own call for a statewide mask mandate. That health agency represents La Plata and Archuleta Counties in the southeast corner of the state.

“The entire state of Colorado has been formally declared a high-risk, high-transmission area, therefore SJBPH calls on the State of Colorado to enact a statewide mask order to help flatten the curve and save lives. A mask order can be rapidly deployed to reduce transmission and complement ongoing efforts with vaccine, testing, and COVID-19 treatments,” SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon wrote.

A chart from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows the state’s number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 over time. (CDPHE)

Like many other advocates for a new mask mandate, Jollon argued that such measures are most effective when issued and enforced at the statewide level, rather than a patchwork of orders across different counties and regions.

“While we work together to vaccinate and boost, we are asking the State for a proven public health precaution that will help immediately,” Jollon wrote.

Currently, there are mask requirements in Boulder, Larimer, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties but hotspots like Pueblo County — which had to call in help from FEMA to staff one of its overstrained hospitals — and Mesa County do not have a mask requirement in place. 

Most recently, the Jefferson County Board of Health submitted a letter to Polis on Nov. 18 urging a mask order after receiving “extremely disturbing data” from the county’s health department about the state of COVID-19 in the county.

Leaders in Jefferson, Adams and Araphoe counties all approved mask requirements on Nov. 22. Under a draft version of the order released last Friday, masks will be required in all indoor spaces in Jefferson County beginning Wednesday, and last until the county has recorded low or moderate transmission levels for at least 21 consecutive days.

Sixteen people died in Jefferson County from COVID-19 between Nov. 8 and Nov. 15, and the county estimates one death per day since July 9. 

“Governor Polis, we all need to do more to address the trends we are seeing currently and that will most likely surge in the coming weeks with holiday travel and movement indoors. Trends are going in the wrong direction and we implore you to take additional mitigation steps immediately before anyone else loses their life unnecessarily,” the board members wrote in their Nov. 18 letter. 

Though Polis encourages mask wearing, he appears unlikely to reinstate a mandate, instead deferring to local county and city authorities.

“We strongly support local governments taking the steps they need to protect members of their public. That’s an important discussion for local public health agencies to have. I think as a state, we all understand that there are tradeoffs and that people in different areas make different decisions. And that’s appropriately done at the local level,” he said at a briefing on Nov. 19. “I think that’s a very reasonable way to do it, and I think that the motives on either side should not be called into question.”

Polis continues to encourage vaccination, and boosters now that all adults are eligible, as the primary strategy to defeat Colorado’s current surge. In addition, he has issued executive orders and activated the crisis standards of care for staffing to help reduce the strain on the state’s hospitals.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:13 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2021 to reflect. new mask requirements in Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams counties. 


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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.