Aspen electeds favor extending mask zone past May 1 |

Aspen electeds favor extending mask zone past May 1

Recommendation to relax mask ordinance comes as Pitkin County moves to more restrictive COVID-19 public health orders

People walk downtown in Aspen on Monday, March 22, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen City Council on Monday declined the police department and chamber of commerce’s recommendation to allow the ordinance mandating people wear to face masks in the downtown core to expire.

Instead, the ordinance, which is set to sunset May 1, will be extended to an undecided date, the majority of council decided Monday during a work session.

Council will consider the extension on first reading of the ordinance April 13 and will be passed as an emergency ordinance on second reading later next month.

The decision came about an hour after it was announced that the state is putting Pitkin County in the more restrictive Orange level of Colorado’s COVID-19 dial due to a rise in novel coronavirus cases.

“I am very concerned about the variants that are going around that continue to mutate, whether a vaccine is actually going to be effective in the future, we’re not all sure of it,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “We’re seeing our numbers locally ticking up pretty dramatically.”

Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn suggested letting the city’s mask zone law expire so enforcement and public messaging would be simpler and be aligned with county and Colorado public health orders, which say that masks are required if people are within 6 feet of each other.

“The benefit of this alignment is that we can all talk the same language, which will help guests and residents alike to behave the same on the downtown mall as they do on the Rio Grande Trail or Smuggler Mountain,” he told council. “That consistency of messaging means that everyone knows the expectations and aren’t expected to know the various jurisdictional lines and where the rules start.”

Linn said APD is past the point of needing to use the threat of enforcement to gain compliance, and although he recognized that the county is going into more restrictive public health orders, the majority of the local population will be vaccinated by early May.

He also noted that state guidelines are expected to be relaxed in April as vaccinations across Colorado increase and other negatives indicators decline.

But as Councilman Ward Hauenstein pointed out in voicing support for the mask zone, the rest of the state is going in one direction while Pitkin County is going in the opposite direction.

“I guess my initial feeling is, have we, not only City Council, but the county, the state and the world given up on trying to protect each other from COVID-19?” he said. “Are we just so tired of it that we’re going to throw up our hands and say, ‘enough, just let’s get on with our lives?’

“I still feel that it’s my responsibility as being an elected official to look after the safety and public health of the people that we represent.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins supported continuing the mask zone for the same reasons as her colleagues.

Mayor Torre and Councilman Skippy Mesirow favored relaxing the ordinance or remapping the zone, which will be discussed in further detail in April.

Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, wrote in a memo Friday to Aspen City Manager Sara Ott that after surveying the board members and business owners, the organization is taking the position that the council should sunset the ordinance.

“Now as the vaccine is distributed, we should begin to ease restrictions and eliminate those that do not align with CDC or CDPHE guidelines,” the memo reads. “Many believe it will be increasingly difficult to enforce an outdoor mask zone once more people are vaccinated, given that CDC has already released new guidance for vaccinated individuals indoors.”

When the mask zone is extended, ACRA asks the city to actively enforce it, as it should not fall to the “front-line employees, such as the ACRA visitor center pavilion staff,” the memo says.

While the mask zone in the downtown core may remain, the city plans to resume paid parking and summer events, if public health orders allow.

Paid parking in residential zones, which is $8 a day, will be reinstituted May 3.

With public health orders limiting capacity on buses and carpooling discouraged, the city has offered free parking in neighborhoods outside the commercial core since March 2020 when the pandemic reached Aspen.

The Aspen Saturday Market will return to semi-normal after last summer’s major reduction in the number of vendors and customers due to capacity limitations and social distancing protocols.

It will be three blocks and each street will be treated as separate “pods” with their own entry and exit points.

As restrictions are easing and the Wheeler Opera House staff prepares to reopen the building, and to encourage community engagement and vitality, the city will offer a one-time program to help nonprofits pay for costs associated with renting the venue.

The in-kind program would establish a uniform credit of $2,500 for nonprofit rental clients only this year as a way to further support the cultural community as it comes back to life.

The estimated cost of the program in terms of foregone income would be $25,000, an amount that is based on analysis of May through December 2019 Wheeler rental figures.

The cost is anticipated to be offset by expense savings in the Wheeler’s 2021 operating budget given that the theater has been closed for the first quarter of the year, as well as most of 2020.

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