As hospitalizations for COVID-19 rise and local leaders warn against more serious strains of the virus, Denver’s government is lifting the mask requirement for certain indoor spaces under certain conditions.
Starting Thursday, people no longer have to wear masks indoors at most places, including at offices, if 80 percent of the people inside are vaccinated, Denver Director of Public Health Bob McDonald announced. If 85 percent of a restaurant’s workers are vaccinated, they no longer have to wear masks inside. No face coverings are required inside when nine or fewer people are present.
People in Denver still must wear masks in grocery stores and other large retail stores where McDonald said it was impossible to track vaccination records. Schools, childcare centers, indoor camps, hospitals, nursing homes, jails, large government buildings, buses, planes and trains will also keep the mask requirment.
Managers of stores, restaurants and other businesses can ask to see vaccination cards of customers and employees, but no one is required to show proof. However, it’s incumbent on a “responsible party” — like a manager — to prove that 80 percent of the people in an office or retail location are vaccinated in order to go mask-free, McDonald said.
Public health officials will investigate complaints but admit that the rules will be hard to enforce, especially after the fact.
“We will be responding to complaints,” said Danica Lee, director of public health investigations for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. “It will be difficult to check compliance after the fact, in some cases. Although that challenge is not unique to this situation — same goes with complaints about compliance at special events or complaints about dynamic issues in regulated facilities” like employees failing to wash their hands.
Despite the relaxation, Denver’s average number of cases sits at a level similar to that of October 2020, according to Denver Health data, when restrictions were harsher. But deaths are way down.
“The difference (between October and now) is the amount of vaccines and the number of people who have gotten them,” said Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock.
About 45 percent of Denverites over 16 are fully vaccinated, and about 63 percent have received one shot, McDonald said. The city’s positivity rate is under 5 percent.
COVID deaths have fallen drastically since their peak, with just one in Denver County during the last week of April. Hospitalizations in Denver have been rising lately, especially among young people, because of more severe strains of the virus, McDonald said, and because of fewer restrictions. Colorado’s COVID rates are lower than only Michigan, which has seen widespread outbreaks lately. And there are “a few outbreaks in Denver that we are looking to control,” McDonald said.
“Its not time to declare victory,” Hancock said, citing vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, young adults and older white men.
It’s never been easier to get the vaccine, Hancock said, because anyone can get one without an appointment.
The new mask rules align more or less with the state’s, which Strott said is meant to avoid a “patchwork” of restrictions.