Summit County officials waiting on the state before adjusting health order and mask rules
Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that vaccinated people can go maskless in most settings
Summit County officials are ready to make amendments to the local public health order. All that stands in the way is additional information from the office of Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
At the Board of Health meeting Thursday, May 13, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo suggested the county adopt the state’s public health order so that local restrictions are in line with the state. That order did not go into effect as planned Friday, May 14, largely because county officials were expecting the state to make additional changes to its public health order following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most cases.
“CDC threw all of us and the state a curveball by making their announcement,” Vargo said. “That was a bit unexpected. And then the state was communicating to us late (Thursday) that they were expecting to make changes to their order perhaps (Friday), perhaps this weekend.”
Those changes to the state’s order were announced at noon Friday, when Polis held a virtual press conference to say that fully vaccinated people can go without masks unless the setting or business requires otherwise, and that unvaccinated people older than 11 should wear masks indoors around others. Polis also said masks are still required in school and child care settings unless teachers, staff or caregivers are vaccinated.
So why is the county waiting to implement changes locally? According to Vargo, it’s because it doesn’t yet have all the information it needs to do so.
“We do not have a written state executive order or a written state public health order, so we don’t know, at this point, anything more than the general public knows that listened to that press conference,” Vargo said.
The new order from the state is expected to be released as soon as Friday night.
Without additional information about what will be in the state’s public health order, Vargo said it becomes difficult to educate business owners and residents about next steps.
“The challenge that we have is we want to put out a press release, we want to provide information to the community about what all of this means, but until we can actually see what the order says from the state, we’re speculating based on what the governor’s press conference said,” Vargo said. “A lot of that is subject to interpretation, and what we found in the past is that, in many cases, what the governor says in the press conference is not what exactly ends up landing in the public health orders at the state level. So we don’t want to speculate and put out information that might be inaccurate in a few hours or in a day.”
Vargo said the county is already working on a new public health order that closely resembles the state’s.
Previously, the state’s rule said people in offices, restaurants, retailers and other businesses could go maskless if they could verify that 80% of the group participating in a meeting, walking around a store or working in an office was vaccinated. The county was planning to adopt that guideline into its new order.
But based on the state’s announcement Friday, Vargo said it appears that could be relaxed even further. Vargo said he interpreted the press conference to mean that the 80% rule would no longer be needed and that there would be no mandate for masks outside of specific situations, like in school settings.
“Going forward, what we expect to happen is that individuals that are operating businesses, offices, etc., it will be their choice,” Vargo said. “So if they want to — for their own personal decision — want their business to have masks, then they would be requiring that for folks entering their business. If, on the other hand, they want to defer to the governor’s direction, then they are able to eliminate the wearing of masks in those spaces.”
Vargo said if the county’s interpretation of the press conference is accurate, then the county plans to include a measure that would require people ages 2-11 to wear masks. That would be in addition to the state’s order, which is expected to require people ages 11 and older to be masked in school settings.
Nothing is set in stone and won’t be locally until the county receives more information from the state.
“We just want to avoid a whiplash situation,” said Amy Wineland, director of Summit County Public Health. “That has happened before, and we really want to have it right the first time and have that coordinated message with the state. We just don’t know what the message is yet.”
In the meantime, residents and businesses should continue to follow the public health order that was implemented last week.
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