No mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases, but officials urge vaccination

By: - August 2, 2021 3:03 pm
Rachel Herlihy

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, speaks during a news briefing on COVID-19 held Aug. 2, 2021. (Screenshot/Governor Jared Polis Facebook page)

Like many other states, Colorado is seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as students prepare to return to school.

But state and local leaders who gave public briefings on Monday appeared unlikely to impose new mask mandates or limit capacity at businesses and events anytime soon.

From July 26 through Aug. 1, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recorded an average of 798 new cases of COVID-19 per day, the highest seven-day average since mid-May and a 29% jump from the previous week. Infection rates have been steadily increasing since the second week of July, according to state data.


Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s top infectious-disease expert, said Monday that Colorado’s latest numbers showed a “pretty rapid” increase in cases — though the situation is not as bad as in many other states.

Likewise, more people are getting hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado, Herlihy noted. As of Aug. 2, state data showed 353 people in the hospital with confirmed cases, a 21% increase from one week earlier.

Herlihy said the higher numbers of cases and hospitalizations were driven by unvaccinated people, despite the presence of some “breakthrough cases” among vaccinated people, who tend to experience milder symptoms.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised its mask guidance to recommend face coverings in public, indoor settings for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.

However, unlike leaders in some other states, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis hasn’t moved to reinstate a mask order in Colorado. On July 30, CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan did extend a state public health order with limited coronavirus restrictions, including a requirement for most people to wear face coverings in homeless shelters, prisons, jails and health care settings. The order is set to expire Sept. 1 unless it’s extended again.

Meanwhile, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Monday that he would require city employees, health care workers and school personnel to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30. In the city and county of Denver, 77% of vaccine-eligible people have already received at least one dose.

Hancock’s announcement follows a separate directive Friday from Polis requiring state employees to either get vaccinated or be subjected to twice-weekly coronavirus testing starting Sept. 20.

Approximately 72% of Coloradans 12 and older have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Polis said Monday.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, please get vaccinated,” Polis said. “Really you are putting yourself at great risk.”

However, state data showed much lower vaccination rates in many rural and frontier counties. In Washington and Kit Carson counties on the Eastern Plains, 31% and 38% of eligible people, respectively, had received one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearby Cheyenne County bottomed out the list at 31%.


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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.