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Aspen to become a face mask state

Two friends take a stroll on Rio Grande Trail wearing masks in Aspen on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Beginning Wednesday, it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in Aspen city limits when people are in indoor and outdoor places and are unable to maintain a 6-foot social distance from one another.

That’s according to a resolution passed by Aspen City Council during a special meeting Monday.

The new law will be in effect until at least May 27, when council will revisit the public health order, which is designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Aspen is following Glenwood Springs’ lead. Elected officials in that city required face coverings for all essential activities outside people’s home effective April 7. That law was extended Monday until May 1.

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The concept was first introduced by Councilman Ward Hauenstein last week and was bantered by council, with some members expressing concerns over supply and enforcement.

“I see face masks as the new normal as we reopen,” Hauenstein said Monday.

While the city is working on a volunteer-based mask producing effort, Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor expressed concern Monday that public safety officers do not have enough masks themselves.

“Police officers will be putting themselves in a position of potentially some higher exposure and to be able to do that, we need our own supply of masks to be able to do that safely,” he said. “I just wanted to be clear in that our supply of (personal protective equipment) is somewhat limited. We have fewer than 200 masks at the police department.”

Council members amended the resolution passing the law, with an emphasis on providing facial covering for public safety officers as a priority.

Pryor noted that the city’s program has given out 200 masks to area businesses and members of the public; 80 were homemade; 150 will be available Tuesday and 2,000 ski buffs are coming in the next couple weeks.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said requiring masks for everyone levels the playing field.

“Any vendor or any retail establishment could refuse someone without a mask and that’s their call,” she said. “I think what this will do for them is enable them to actually do that.

“I’ve talked to a lot of different people who really didn’t want to allow people without mask, but without some type of ordinance behind them, they don’t really feel they could say anything and this is what this is doing is saying, OK, you can achieve that.”

Councilwoman Rachel Richards concurred, noting that as an employee at City Market she is required to wear a mask but it feels like a disconnect when customers do not.

“Far too many people aren’t wearing masks in the grocery store,” she said.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said he also is concerned about supply, as well as societal and psychological shifts in the community by wearing masks.

“Covering one’s face is a deeply personal thing,” he said. “This is a community that is made on hugs and smiles … and covering faces all across town is going to feel eerie, it’s going to feel creepy and it’s going to affect the way people interact. And I think that’s something that frankly we may have to accept in order to get things rolling again and re-emerge as a connected community.”

Mayor Torre said mandating facial coverings has generated mixed reviews from his constituents, but it’s a necessary step in protecting public health.

“I know that this is not for everybody,” he said. “But this is how we’re going to act quickly now to get to reopening Aspen.”

The city will approach the enforcement of the new law by education and warnings. If further enforcement is needed, a fine structure is in place.

Not wearing a face covering is subject to a $50 fine for the first offense, $250 for the second and a mandatory court appearance for any subsequent offense and a fine of as much as $2,650.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that masks should fit snugly against the side of the face, are secured with ties or ear loops, and include multiple layers of fabric.

The city’s new law includes ski buffs, which are similar to neck gaiters.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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