Polis lifts Colorado mask mandate, outlines 'suggestions' to replace requirements

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Posted at 12:25 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-15 02:12:34-04

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis on Friday lifted Colorado's mask requirement in most settings, calling the change in the state order a shift from requirements to "suggestions."

Polis' announcement came one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask indoors. Denver's updated guidance on ditching the masks for unvaccinated people followed a few hours later.

Colorado's guidance announced by Polis on Friday was in line with the CDC guidance — fully vaccinated Coloradans do not need to wear a mask in most settings, though Polis acknowledged that some businesses will still require masks and he said Coloradans should respect those decisions.

Polis said the state is advising — but not requiring — unvaccinated people to continue wearing a mask indoors in a setting with more than 10 people.

Several settings will still fall under a state mask mandate for unvaccinated people, including prisons and jails, emergency care settings, congregate care facilities and child care businesses. Those requirements will be in place through June 1, Polis said.

Full news conference: Gov. Jared Polis ends mask requirements, outlines 'suggestions' for certain settings

Polis said he believed that lifting the statewide mask requirement "will encourage people to get vaccinated."

State health officials have estimated that 75-80% of Coloradans want the vaccine. Just under 40% of Coloradans are fully vaccinated.

"The pandemic is not over," Polis said, "but if you are vaccinated, it is largely over for you."

Polis said to anyone not yet vaccinated: "We're ready to return to normal because so many people are vaccinated, so come along with us and get yourself vaccinated."

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment responded shortly after to the new guidelines with the following statement:

Currently, Denver is evaluating the CDC guidance and will consider whether adjustments should be made to Denver’s face covering order. We are waiting for guidance and any changes that the State makes, as well as coordinate with our regional partners to ensure as much alignment as possible. We will have more information soon, we have yet to receive State’s new order that highlights the changes identified in the Governor’s Press Conference.

It wasn't yet known Friday afternoon how most businesses would respond to the updated guidance from the state.

The Blake Street Tavern was the first to respond with a tweet informing visitors that, effective immediately, masks will no longer be required.

“We are going by the “honor system” and encourage our patrons to be fully vaccinated upon entering BST,” the tweet reads. “We will not be checking for proof of vaccination.”

Employees at the restaurant say several safety practices will still be in place including sanitation practices and QR code menus.

“It's nice to see smiles again,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager at Blake Street Tavern. “It's nice to see smiles again.”

King Soopers released a statement saying it would still require everyone — employees and customers — to wear a mask inside stores.

Trader Joes' said it would "encourage customers to follow the guidance of health officials, including, as appropriate, CDC guidelines that advise customers who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks while shopping."

Though lifting the mask mandate is an encouraging sign for many, Colorado leads the country in the most cases per 100,000 residents.

Beth Carlton with the Colorado School of Public Health said the current numbers in the state are concerning and should be a wake-up call for those who are not vaccinated.

“Just to be clear, I'm worried. People not vaccinated or people like me who've been vaccinated but still aren't two weeks out from their shot, right?" Carlton said. "I think what my fear about this guidance is those who are not fully vaccinated will think the show is over, too — that this pandemic is over. And for all of us in that category, this pandemic is very real, and if you're in Colorado, it's really risky."

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said an estimated 1 in 81 Coloradans is infected, and spread is happening at a high level. The department says the course of the pandemic hangs on the next few weeks and how much success the state has with vaccinations and controlling spread.