Board of Health says no to mask mandate

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by Marissa Lorenz
At this week’s regular meeting of the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), Commissioners, sitting as the Board of Health, all stated that they would not support a countywide mandate requiring masks in public places at this time.

Citizen views vary on masks
The issue was brought forward through letters from the Towns of Fraser and Winter Park and public comment in front of the Board.

The letters read similarly, asking that Commissioners implement a countywide mask mandate and stating, “While no one likes the actions required to limit the spread of [COVID-19], we recognize they are necessary for our businesses to remain open. Implementing requirements at a county level for the wearing of masks when social distancing is not possible would put all businesses on a level playing field. More importantly, it would allay the concern of many employees while further ensuring our businesses are not shut again.”

BOCC Chair Kristen Manguso indicated that Grover Pryor, Mayor of Kremmling, asked that a countywide mandate not be imposed.

Two Grand County citizens spoke during public comment, with the first presenting her opposition
to a mask mandate. “I don’t feel that that’s necessary. And it’s also a detriment to our health, for those of us with respiratory issues. We’re responsible citizens, and we shouldn’t be told how to keep our health well.” She finished, “Let the individual cities decide what they want to do, but I don’t think it’s a good blanket thing for the whole county.”

A second resident spoke in favor of a countywide mandate, stating, “Employees have concerns. I think the County should take the position of a mask mandate in public places to protect the employees.” She also indicated a sense of mixed messaging with health officials saying a mask should be worn, but no local government order. “There should be one message from county officials.”

Officials differ on mask mandate stance
During the weekly Public Health COVID-19 update, Grand County Public Health Director Brene Belew-Ladue, offered support for a mask mandate in public places. “The tool that is working the best for containment of COVID-19 is mask-wearing,” she noted. “Mask-wearing is even more effective than social distancing at times. Evidence is coming out that it is the best tool we have right now, until we get a vaccine.”

Darcy Selenke, Medical Director of Public Health, pointed to the “immense success” of COVID-19 mitigation in Grand County. “This really speaks to strong policy and really good follow-through with our community.”

She referred to the perception of public safety being important for attracting tourism right now and that benefit to the local economy. She pleaded with Commissioners to recognize that students, teachers, and families need the community to be safe enough for school to resume normally in the fall. And she indicated concern about potential loss of federal monies related to COVID-19 if all precautions are not followed.

“We’re going to have to stay our course, straight and narrow, for the next nine months. It’s really important for our community,” Selenke urged. “All we have is distancing, face masks, and hand sanitizer.”

“I see lots of politicizing of masks,” she concluded, “and I don’t want health and politics to be intertwined. I want everyone in our community to feel safe.

The Board of Health took a different view. Commissioner Rich Cimino thanked Public
Health but said, “I’m not ready to impose a mandatory mask rule countywide yet. I seek voluntary compliance. (…) It’s so much better than trying to impose something with unintended consequences.”

Commissioner Merrit Linke agreed, noting, “Let’s encourage people to wear masks. Let’s not make it mandatory.” He also referred to the challenge of enforcement if an order were to be passed.

Manguso expressed concern for employees having to wear masks all day. “Let the businesses and towns make their own decisions,” she summarized. “The three of us are united. Right now, we respect it–voluntary compliance, please.”

Concern over concealed carry conflict unfounded

An additional concern was expressed during public comment over a possible conflict between a mask mandate and the right for permitted citizens to carry a concealed weapon. Linke remarked that he had heard similar worries, that Colorado Concealed Carry holders were not allowed to wear masks while carrying and that it would violate their permit.

Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin clarified, “Colorado law has nothing that invalidates a concealed carry permit for wearing a mask. There is nothing prohibiting it, so there is no conflict.”