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Larimer County businesses prepare for mask mandate

It goes into effect at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 20 and was issued due to the impacts of COVID-19 on local ICU capacity,

FORT COLLINS, Colo — On Wednesday, October 20 at noon, masks will be required in public indoor spaces in Larimer County, after a new public health order was issued Friday.

The order was issued due to the impacts of COVID-19 on local ICU capacity, according to a release from the Larimer County Department of Health.

RELATED: Larimer County issues new indoor mask mandate

ICU occupancy levels have been hovering at or above 100% for the past four weeks, according to a release. 

“Larimer County hospitals are being overburdened and we cannot allow this to continue indefinitely," said Tom Gonzales, the Larimer County public health director in a statement. "Our hospitals need relief so they can swiftly and adequately treat all urgent medical needs in our community."

RELATED: Latest COVID-19 numbers: Case count spikes to highest level seen since January

Now, some businesses are gearing up to go back to having customers mask up while inside. 

Credit: Luis de Leon

Preparing once again

Kevin Gearhardt has co-owned Maxline Brewing in Fort Collins with his wife for around five years, and they've already printed out and laminated the mask requirement signs to be put up once the new order in effect. 

"And so our employees always wore masks, and then we went through wearing masks until I think it was March of this year - March, April timeframe when the mandates all went away..." he said in an interview Saturday. "I mean, it's unfortunate that we have to go through this again, but we we will follow the rules as we did the last time around."

He said the signs will be posted on their three main entrances and at their two serving stations. 

"I mean, it had an impact on our business last time around as far as a reduced customer base," he said. I would say that our customers have been very loyal and have come back."

Overall he said he's hoping that customers will understand, but is concerned about how it could impact business. 

"I am concerned about the impact to the revenue," he said. "And so that is a concern as to how it's going to impact our business and every other business in town because people have been used to not having to wear a mask for seven months plus now. And while we do see some people already wearing masks for the last few weeks, even a month or two months, the majority of people do not. So I guess we're just going to have to take a wait and see attitude to see how it impacts our our customer base."

He said he also hope that people continue to support local businesses. 

"...small businesses are where it's at," he said. "We we all need to survive and we've been pretty lucky here in Fort Collins. I feel the majority of the businesses here have made it through the pandemic and it's been it's been a really good year to recover. And the timing of this mask mandate. I guess we'll see how it impacts it." 

Credit: Kevin Gearhardt
People enjoying the outdoor seating at Maxline Brewing in Fort Collins on Saturday.

Not far from there is Obstacle Brewing and Grill where owner Chris Mulligan said he's working to make sure customers know about the mandate coming up. 

"Yeah, we're going to start putting up the signs this weekend, and I've let my staff know that it's coming," he said. "And so everybody's getting prepared for that here. And we kind of want to give all of our customers a heads up so they don't get caught by surprise when it officially goes into effect on Wednesday."

He said they haven't bumped into too many issues with customers in the past, but generally some get upset about the mandate. He called the mandate a minor inconvenience. 

"Most of our customer base realizes that the guidelines aren't coming from us, and we're just trying to do everything that we can to stay open,"  he said. 

Overall, he said he just wants to keep his customers and employees safe. 

"You know, and the reason that we followed the guidelines to begin with was the sooner that everybody does that, the sooner we felt like we would kind of get out of the restrictions and get past the pandemic," he said. "And so, you know, it's going to continue to be a challenge with that. And so we have to have a mask mandate in place for that just to prevent it from from spreading any more. But ideally, everybody can get vaccinated to reduce the hospitalizations, which is what's driving the mask mandate again."

Mandate exemptions

Businesses can be exempt of the mask mandate if they apply and are approved through Larimer County's Vaccine Verified Facility & Event Program.

According to the website, requirements to be eligible include:

  • Must have a written policy requiring proof of vaccination for all individuals entering the indoor space (visitors, guests, employees, staff, etc.)
  • Must have 95% of all individuals vaccinated
  • Other mitigation strategies if needed

"Facilities with policies already in place prior to the effective date of this order that require proof of vaccination for employees, staff, guests, customers and all others entering the facility may continue operating per their existing procedures provided they are consistent with the Vaccine Verified Facility guidance," the website reads. 

Credit: Chris Mulligan
Obstacle Brewing and Grill in Fort Collins.

The hope for easing stress on hospitals

In a statement, a Banner Health spokesperson said their hospitals and emergency rooms continue to operate with a high volume of patients both without and without COVID-19. 

"Last year when we all masked and practiced social distancing, there were far fewer flu and RSV cases, which lessened the burden on hospitals and allowed us to get a handle on the pandemic," the statement read in part. "To put us back in a good position to provide the care everyone needs, we support steps to have community members adopt good health practices and reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses."

Hospitals have been under pressure with patients and capacity for several weeks now, and it doesn't only have to do with ICU capacity. 

A UCHealth spokesperson told 9NEWS in a statement that their hospitals are experiencing very high census rates and caring for near-record numbers of patients, and are postponing many non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries to ensure they have available beds.

"Cases are being postponed at our hospitals throughout the state including those in northern Colorado, metro Denver and southern Colorado. This is helping to open up beds for patients with more urgent health care conditions. When this is needed, we reach out directly to the patients to let them know their surgery or procedure is being postponed," the spokesperson said in part, later saying in another statement, "...postponing medical care is something we never want to do. We know patients need these surgeries and procedures. We’ll reschedule them as soon as possible, but at this time, there just aren’t enough hospitals or hospital beds in our state to take care of everyone."

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