DENVER — Citing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the City & County of Denver will now require face masks in certain outdoor public settings as well as reduce gathering limits from 10 to five people.
“We are, as a county, brimming on the edge of a crisis that could further endanger individuals’ health as well as damage our economy,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said during a virtual news conference announcing the two new public health orders.
The tougher mask mandate is in effect indefinitely. The limit on gatherings is effective until Nov. 16, the city said.
Previously, Denver’s face mask mandate only applied to indoor public settings.
The new orders do not apply to people in the same household or if they are alone. It means that face coverings must be worn outdoors in settings where social distancing is not possible and people are interacting with those who are from outside their household.
Schools and certain businesses are exempt from the limits on gatherings, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said. Younger Denver Public Schools students are slated to return to in-person learning.
Restaurants may also continue to seat up to 10 people – something McDonald said is possible because they already have a multitude of other health measures in place.
“An example of when to wear a face covering outside is walking to lunch with a friend or co-worker not living with you,” a news release from the city said. “However, if you are alone or with a member of your household, face coverings are not required.
“Pickup basketball games, for example, will now be limited to five players and all players who do not live together must wear face coverings. This does not apply to organized sports because of mandated provisions already guiding those activities.”
McDonald said the city is stepping up enforcement of the new orders, and those who violate them could receive a court summons.
He warned that if COVID-19 continues to spread in the city, Denver could enact tougher measures.
“We will see reduced capacity for restaurants, last call for alcohol sales will be earlier, there will be reduced capacities for a wide-range of retailers and further restrictions on outdoor settings and indoor settings," McDonald said.
Hancock said he was monitoring a concerning increase in COVID-19 case rates during a Monday news briefing.
"We’ve reached a fork in the road,” Hancock said. “As we’ve all seen over the last month, our case numbers are continuing to increase at a concerning rate, especially here in Denver.”
Hancock said Denver’s seven-day average of daily case rates, which is at 127, are as high now as they were at the height of the pandemic in May. He said hospitalization rates have also risen steadily over the last several weeks.
“During the week of Oct. 3, our seven-day average of hospitalizations was at 126,” Hancock said. “Today, just a week later, the average is 174 – a 37% increase.”
According to the state's COVID-19 Dashboard, Denver's status is listed as "Safer-At-Home, Level 2: Concern." Hancock said the city could go back to a more restrictive Level 3 status if COVID-19 trends don't start to turn around.
“That means our capacity in restaurants, retail business, event spaces and personal services, among others get cut in half,” Hancock said. “When so many business right now are struggling just to stay open, that would mean absolute devastation to those businesses.”
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