Limited mask mandates set to return in some county- and town-owned buildings

Summit County health officials say unvaccinated visitors are impacting the community

Shoppers voluntarily wear masks Tuesday, Aug. 10, at City Market in Breckenridge. Summit County officials are set to implement a mask mandate for county government buildings only.
Photo by Tripp Fay / Tripp Fay Photography

Both the delta variant and unvaccinated visitors are creating an increasingly high incidence rate in Summit County, causing concern among the county’s elected officials. Officials feel the threat to the community is so high that beginning Monday, Aug. 16, visitors to all county facilities will need to wear a mask whether or not they’re vaccinated.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence also proposed individuals wishing to attend Summit Board of County Commissioners meetings in the future must show proof of vaccination or attend meetings virtually. The idea was supported by Summit County Commissioners Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard, though Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said it likely would take more time to flesh out.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Director of Public Health Amy Wineland gave another update about the threat of the virus. According to Summit County’s website, the community’s incidence rate is about 249 cases per 100,000 people. That would fall in level yellow on the state’s now-defunct color-coded dial. Breakthrough cases are also on the rise.

“Summit County continues to be a leader in the state as far as vaccinations go,” Wineland said. “… We’re seeing vaccinations tick up a little bit in the last few weeks, but our cases are also going up in that same direction.”

Wineland noted that while the county’s incidence rate is high, the community’s vaccination rate is 78%. The seemingly conflicting data is due to the more contagious delta variant and visitors from states with low vaccination rates, Wineland said. Factoring in unvaccinated visitors, the county’s overall vaccination rate is likely within the 60% range, she said.

Wineland said the data is concerning because the county’s incidence rate is much like it was last fall.

“We are really hitting rates similar to what we were in late October of last year,” she said.

During the meeting, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the county can lead by example and recommended that masks be required in all county facilities beginning Monday, Aug. 16.

“The requirement would be in place in Summit County facilities as long as we remain classified as substantial or high-risk by the CDC, and so that’s a seven-day incidence rate of 50 or higher,” Vargo said. “And as you guys saw, we’re at (248.6) right now.”

The county is not the first government entity to bring back masks. As of Monday, Aug. 9, the town of Frisco started requiring masks in its buildings as well as the Adventure Park Day Lodge, the Historic Park, its Visitor Information Center and all of its Frisco Bay Marina buildings. Other towns, including Breckenridge and Silverthorne, are meeting this week to discuss masking policies.

Lawrence took it one step further by saying she’d like to see all Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting attendees show proof of vaccination or otherwise attend the meetings virtually.

Lawrence noted that not many people attended the meetings in person currently and that she’d like to protect the families of county government employees moving into the school year and ski season.

“I know this might seem really heavy-handed, but I have a fully vaccinated child, she was able to get that, and these two don’t,” Lawrence said about Pogue and Blanchard.

County Attorney Jeff Huntley said the decision would be well within the law for the county to execute, and Vargo said it would take some time to iron out the details.

Pogue said she was supportive of the idea but wanted to ensure those who don’t get vaccinated due to religious or cultural concerns have a way to access the meeting. She said she’d be supportive of routine testing to allow individuals to attend in person, but Vargo noted that could be tricky and said attendees can still join the meetings via Zoom.

Blanchard was also supportive of the idea and noted his increasing concern for the virus’ threat to the community.

“I’m very concerned when I see year-over-year comparisons,” Blanchard said. “And this time last year, we had less numbers, and the only real (strategies) we had were capacity restrictions and masks, and we didn’t have vaccines. When we compare the numbers, we are much higher. … That’s pretty alarming, and I think I would ask folks just to think about what’s at stake and the priority.”

Blanchard noted that the impact of the virus on the community is constantly changing.

“This pandemic is here to stay,” he said. “So many folks are frustrated because they were promised a return to normalcy, and the reason why we felt that way was the changing variable was the vaccines. Once folks were vaccinated, we would be able to start to see reductions in some of these mandates. What we didn’t know was (the) lack of vaccinations with our visitor population, and we didn’t know about the delta variant.”

In addition to implementing its own policies, county officials agreed that it would take measures to support business owners that want to implement their own masking or vaccination policies. One of the commissioners even noted that some businesses had reached out to ask for a mask mandate out of concern for the safety of their employees.

Pogue suggested the use of a vaccination passport, and it was noted this was a difficult measure to implement. Instead, Wineland suggested the county create and distribute informational materials to the businesses that want them.

Though the Summit Board of County Commissioners and other county staff members took steps they believe will help mitigate the risk and impact of the delta variant, the public health order remains the same and is currently set to expire at the end of the month.

Shoppers voluntarily wear masks Tuesday, Aug. 10, at City Market in Breckenridge. Summit County officials are set to implement a mask mandate for county government buildings only.
Photo by Tripp Fay / Tripp Fay Photography
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