DENVER – Denver Public Schools will require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks inside schools to start the school year, the district said Tuesday.
The requirement will be in place for people regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated against COVID-19 and takes effect Monday, Aug. 9, according to DPS spokesperson Will Jones.
People will be required to wear masks any time they meet with students or staff, but staff members who are vaccinated and alone in their workspace will not have to wear them at those times.
Jones said students and staff will not have to wear masks outside because of the lower risk of spreading COVID-19.
He said the district made the decision in consultation with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
Sources added that charter schools will be able to make their own decisions regarding masks indoors.
News of the requirement comes a day after Denver said it would require all teachers and school staff to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, along with city employees and other workers in high-risk settings and a few weeks after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommended students and staff continue wearing masks this fall in school.
DPS said its decision falls in line with the recommendations from the CDPHE.
Steve Federico, M.D., the director of general pediatrics and school and community programs at Denver Health, said in a video update Monday that keeping the mask policy in place would be a “key mitigating factor” moving forward in the fight against rising COVID cases and hospitalizations and the spread of the delta variant.
“When we think about getting back to school, it’s all about having the greatest number of kids in school for the greatest number of days,” Federico said. “And by combining universal vaccination with universal masking, it really makes it much less likely that we will have a significant number of cases in our buildings and that we’ll have a significant amount of spread as a result of those two mitigation factors.”
Students were required to wear masks during the 2020-21 school year in Denver as well.
In Jeffco Public Schools this coming school year, students ages 3 to 11 will be required to wear masks indoors, and they will be recommended for students 12 and older. Westminster Public Schools will also require masks for students, staff, and teachers.
Other districts in the metro area have not yet mandated masks for this year. Douglas County Schools are strongly encouraging face coverings but not requiring them. The Boulder Valley School District has said masks likely will not be mandatory.
Denver Public Schools students are set to return to the classroom on Aug. 23. The district is offering a full remote learning option for this school year as well.
Louis Ortega says requiring masks will help protect his 7-year-old son, Arian Ortega, from getting COVID-19 since the Pfizer vaccine is only approved for kids 12 and older. He admits, masks are annoying but said they can help save lives, and they don’t seem to bother his son.
“He doesn’t even want to leave the house sometimes without it because he’s like, 'I don’t want to get COVID,'” Ortega said.
The Ortega family tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer. Arian Ortega stayed with a family member so he wouldn’t get sick while the rest of the family quarantined. Ortega said while one of his son’s had mild symptoms, another got really sick.
Last week, DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex M. Alex Marrero confessed he had a big decision to make. He said parents were very vocal about their stance on masks.
“It’s been a tremendous amount of those who want to be masked universally and others who are saying, 'Please don’t do this to my child,' or, 'I’m not going to send them in if you do this to my child,'” Marrero said.
Parents also took to the Denver7 Facebook page to voice their opinions. Most of the comments agreed with the mandate, but one called it “complete insanity,” and another called the mask requirement “stupid” adding that it would never work.
Ortega said everyone that was eligible in his family has been vaccinated and is now encouraging other parents to vaccinate their children if they are eligible.
“You gotta get other shots to go to school like measles, mumps, all that stuff," Ortega said. "So, why not just add this one to it.”
Denver7 reporter Adi Guajardo contributed to this report.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.