Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) relaxed the county's mask order on Monday so that masks are no longer required in outdoor public spaces.
The health department made the change, effective immediately, due to the county's progress with getting residents vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a JCPH news release.
The amended public health order will remain in effect until May 6 unless it's changed or rescinded before then, JCPH said. The county's indoor face-covering requirement remained in effect.
The amended public health order can be read here.
"While we're at a place where we can remove the outdoor mask requirements, we are asking our residents and visitors to continue wearing their masks indoors a bit longer so we can stay on the right path," said Dr. Dawn Comstock, JCPH executive director, in the release. "After vaccination, masking and social distancing remain the most effective weapons we have against COVID-19 transmission."
As of April 2, 27.3% of Jefferson County residents were fully vaccinated and another 18.3% were partially vaccinated, according to JCPH. The county's seven-day positivity rate was 4.5% on April 1, the most recent data available.
According to the amended Jeffco public health order, which supersedes the statewide executive order on face coverings:
- People age 11 and older must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth in indoor public spaces where 6 feet of distancing from non-household members can't be maintained, regardless of the number of people in the space or their vaccination status.
- People must wear a mask while using public transportation such as airplanes, trains, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles.
JCPH recommended that individuals with underlying health conditions or who engage in high-risk activities continue wearing a mask outdoors.
"Each individual should assess their risk level when they are outside, and I hope people will have a mask handy in their pocket when in outdoor public spaces so it is easily accessible whenever they find themselves in a higher-risk scenario," Comstock said.
Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties
Also on Monday, Tri-County Public Health (TCPH) amended its mask order. The amended order says people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties are not required to wear masks outdoors. Masks are still required to be worn inside any public indoor place by anyone 10 and older, according to the order. Children between the ages of 2-10 are strongly urged to wear a face covering with adult supervision, according to TCPH.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said TCPH Executive Director John M. Douglas, Jr. “Until every person has had the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine, many in our communities remain at risk for serious illness from this virus. By continuing to wear face coverings we can protect our friends and loved ones and minimize the impact that outbreaks have on our schools and businesses.”
Increasing spread of potentially more severe and contagious variant strains and changes in individual behaviors are major sources of uncertainty at this point in the pandemic, TCPH said. According to modeling done by the Colorado School of Public Health in the last week of March, approximately 27% of Coloradans are currently immune due to vaccination and/or prior infection. While about 68% of Coloradans age 65 years and older are estimated to be immune and hospitalizations of older adults has declined, modeling suggests that continuing to maintain prevention behaviors such as wearing face coverings when in public spaces can prevent large numbers of deaths and hospitalizations.
The order will remain in effect until June 30 unless it is rescinded, amended or extended.
The Boulder County Health Department (BCHD) on Friday became the first Front Range county to amend its mask-wearing guidelines. The amended public health order says people are no longer required to wear masks while outdoors in public spaces. Face coverings are still required to be worn in indoor public spaces by anyone 10 and older.
“As restrictions gradually ease, it is important to continue wearing masks in indoor spaces,” said Lexi Nolen, BCPH's interim executive director. “While we are making great strides, we need to keep safety guidelines in place for a while longer.”
BCPH said more than 40% of Boulder County's eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Is it too soon to be lifting these orders?
9NEWS asked the Jefferson County Health Department, Tri-County Health Department Director Dr. John Douglas and UCHealth Senior Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Michelle Barron to answer that question.
Editor's Note: Answers may have been edited for context and clarity.
9NEWS: Dr. Douglas, how did you and your colleagues come about making this decision as herd immunity is not reached and concerns about COVID-19 variants still exist?
Douglas: We’ve been discussing really since we initiated the mask mandate back in July ... should we continue it? When should we modify it? We continued it when the Governor issued his order because we felt like, of everything we could do, ensuring a high degree of masking was probably a cost-effective prevention strategy. I have personally become an enormous believer in the great outdoors as being a very forgiving environment. I think what we’ve tried to do is to look really hard at everything we’re doing that restricts the way we live. And those things that we think are really strongly likely to make a difference, we should hold on to. Let’s pick and choose [our rules]. Let’s just don’t do some big sledgehammer thing. Everybody’s sick of sledgehammers. Nobody particularly likes our scalpel approach in some ways. But I’d rather be using a scalpel than a sledgehammer.
9NEWS: Jefferson County, you are warning residents that cases are rising, and you may have to move from "blue" to "yellow" on the state's COVID restriction dial. Why did you still feel comfortable relaxing your mask mandate?
Jeffco: JCPH felt comfortable removing the requirement for masks in outdoor settings based on a growing number of people getting vaccinated (especially higher risk groups), as well as a growing body of evidence that shows — while the novel coronavirus can be transmitted outdoors — it’s much more rare than indoors. We know people want to get outside, and if people do gather, we strongly encourage them to do so outdoors. If Jeffco is moved to Level Yellow by CDPHE, our efforts will continue to focus on encouraging community members to follow COVID-19 prevention precautions, especially in higher-risk settings (e.g., mask-wearing indoors when 6ft. can’t be maintained around people you don’t live with).
9NEWS: Dr. Barron, you agree with these decisions. Why?
Barron: I think that with the knowledge that we know have, which has been changing, I think the concern for having it cause an infection in the outdoor arena is significantly less and I think we just have better science now to support that.
It has to do with the amount of air and the amount of air exchanges that exist. When you’re in buildings, you’re subject to the air handling systems, and some might be quite old and not have enough air moving in the building at any given time. Obviously outdoors, there’s a constant source of air that would potentially remove the virus from the immediate area or dilute it out to where it was no longer an issue.
What about variants? Do they spread differently outside?
Barron: I don’t know that anybody has actually studied the environment ... but I can tell you most [instances of any spread] are going to be when you’re in close proximity to someone without a lot of air exchanges and you’re not wearing masks.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: COVID-19 Vaccine