Setting up potential disputes for rural businesses, Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide mask order but modified its requirements for counties in level green, the least-restrictive stage on Colorado's color-coded dial of pandemic restrictions.
In July of last year, Polis signed Colorado's first statewide mask order generally requiring masks to be worn in all public indoor spaces. The governor has extended the order every 30 days since then, according to a state fact sheet.
Effective April 3, the order's requirements changed for counties in level green, which includes many of Colorado's rural areas. As of April 2, Gilpin was the only Denver-area county operating in green.
The state's color-coded COVID-19 dial is the set of restrictions counties must follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affects capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial on Sept. 15.
Among the dial's six levels, green is the least restrictive. Purple, the most restrictive level, is a stay-at-home order.
Now, in counties in blue, yellow, orange, red and purple, masks must be worn in public indoor settings where 10 or more unvaccinated individuals or “individuals of unknown vaccination status” are present, the fact sheet on the modified order says.
Effectively, the section about unvaccinated Coloradans doesn't change much for most businesses.
“Businesses or facilities should err on the side of assuming that people entering their indoor site are unvaccinated. With 1 in 6 Coloradans fully vaccinated, most indoor public settings like grocery stores, retail stores and gyms will need to require mask-wearing,” the fact sheet says.
The larger change in the updated mask order is that the list of settings where masks are required in level green now only includes:
• Schools, including preschool through grade 12. That includes extracurricular activities.
• Child care centers and indoor children's camps.
• Public-facing state government facilities.
• Health care settings, including hospitals, ambulance service centers, urgent care centers and others.
• Personal services, such as hair and nail salons, esthetician services, and body art professionals.
• “Congregate care facilities,” including nursing facilities, assisted living residences, group homes and other care facilities.
• Prisons and jails.
In other words, many types of businesses — including grocery and retail stores, and others — are no longer included in the list of settings that require masks in level green. It remained to be seen how often businesses might decide to enforce their own mask requirements.
Nothing in the updated mask order prevents a county or municipality from adopting more “protective” — stricter — standards than those contained in the order, according to its text.
The order keeps exemptions that were in the prior orders, according to a news release from the governor's office.
People who are 10 years old and younger and those who cannot “medically tolerate” a face covering are exempt, according to the order's text.
See a full list of exemptions here.
The updated mask order comes on the heels of the latest changes to Colorado's system of COVID-19 restrictions — dubbed “dial 3.0” — which took effect on March 24. With the arrival of dial 3.0, counties scattered across the state moved to level green. Twenty-eight of the state's 64 counties were in that level as of March 26.
Only a few counties had qualified for level green — also known as the “protect our neighbors” stage — in the past.
As of April 2, the number of counties that are in level green was 31, representing a rough population of 238,000 Coloradans, according to the fact sheet.
State officials expect that dial 3.0 will remain in effect until mid-April, at which point the state plans to retire the dial and implement a new public health order that gives local public health agencies greater control over what restrictions to enforce.
Colorado's mask order, an executive order from the governor, is separate from the state's dial system of restrictions.
As for whether the mask order will be renewed again when it expires in May, the state's fact sheet said:
“The governor, public health experts and the governor's legal team review every executive order before expiration. We are closely monitoring disease transmission, hospitalizations and vaccination rates, and will consider these factors prior to the executive order's expiration.”
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