JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – Residents in Jefferson County will no longer be required to wear masks in public indoor settings starting Friday, Feb. 18, joining several metro area counties in lifting these mandates despite high rates of transmission of the novel coronavirus across Colorado.
The Jefferson County Board of Health debated for several hours whether to extend the mandate but ultimately decided on expiring the public health order as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline throughout much of the state.
Board of Health officials said the mask mandate could expire as early as Feb. 15, depending on what the data shows.
Part of the decision in lifting the county-wide mask mandate was due to a recent Colorado School of Public Health modeling report, which projects 80% of Coloradans will be immune to the omicron variant by mid-February.
Enacted on Nov. 23 of last year and extended on Dec. 28 due to the surge in cases from the omicron variant, the current public health order states mask mandates will not expire until the county experienced at least 21 consecutive days of low or moderate transmission of the virus, which range from a 7-day average positivity rate of less than 5% to 8%, or 1 to 50 new cases per 100,000 people.
Currently, the county’s 7-day average positivity rate stands at just above 15% - three times of what is recommended by federal, state, and local health officials to curb community transmission of COVID-19. As of Thursday, there were 525.1 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the county’s COVID-19 data.
In response to this discrepancy from the public health agency, a spokesperson for Jefferson County Public Health sent Denver7 the following statement:
We understand that when the goalposts change, it can be frustrating and confusing for the public. However, as we have known since the beginning of the pandemic, the data and scientific developments are always changing and need to be continuously evaluated. That's why in making this decision, we evaluated the differences between the variants, as well as the current projections, to make sure now is indeed the right time.
We’re learning new things about how this virus operates nearly every day, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to treat Omicron data like Delta data, or the Alpha data before that. Each strain of this virus has impacted the health of our community differently, and therefore our approach and our decision-making process should be done in context, to make sure we’re following the science and giving the best public health guidance we can with the information we have at the time.
Omicron is more highly transmissible than any other strain of this virus to date, but it’s less virulent, and overall produces much less severe disease and health consequences, especially with so much of our population having been vaccinated and a large percentage having been boosted.
While guidance has changed and will continue to change as we learn more, especially if there are future variants that behave substantially differently than Omicron, our values have not. We’re following the science and listening to experts. Our approach has been a balanced one. We need to make sure that we’re keeping our community safe and healthy, especially those who are elderly, immunocompromised or who cannot yet get vaccinated. At this point, in our current state, we are moving forward towards personal responsibility in a new state of normal and endemic disease while continuing to reduce the spread of disease and risk to our community.
The board of public health said the expiration of the public health order will also apply to schools, though federal and state mandates – like mask wearing in school buses or health care settings – will remain in place for the time being.
Mask mandates for Broomfield and Denver will end Friday, while those for Adams and Arapahoe counties expire on Saturday.
Though indoor mask mandates are ending for much of the Denver metro, businesses are at liberty of requiring them from patrons if they so choose.
Colorado health officials on Thursday continued to express “cautious optimism” about the trajectory of the virus in Colorado but said the rate of community transmission is still “pretty unprecedented” and urged Coloradans to continue to wear masks indoors even as counties lift their mandates.
Editor's note on Feb. 4, 2022: This story has been modified with a statement from Jefferson County Public Health, which provides more context as to why the board voted in favor of expiring the mask mandate despite high rates of transmission.