Aspen to everyone: Wear a mask, it’s the law |

Aspen to everyone: Wear a mask, it’s the law

The 'When outside let it slide' message about mask wearing in Aspen is being replaced with it's safer to wear one all the time when in public.
David Krause/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen is changing its public messaging that wearing a face mask throughout town, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, is what’s expected from locals and guests in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Signs throughout the downtown core that read, “When you’re outside let the mask slide” are going to be replaced with messaging that masks should be worn at all times when in public.

The “let it slide” campaign was geared more toward the local population, with the assumption that residents are familiar with the city and Pitkin County’s public health order mandating masks be worn if individuals cannot be 6 feet apart for more than 10 minutes.

But now that town is bustling with welcomed visitors, the message needs to be more urgent, officials said.

“The tourists don’t have background on the 10-minute rule,” City Manager Sara Ott said Tuesday. “We’ve been pretty casual but we are at the point now that we are saying just wear a mask.”

New posters and yard signs will read, “Keep Aspen safer, keep Aspen open” and others that reiterate the county’s five commitments to containment as part of the local “box it in” strategy which include staying 6 feet apart from others who are not in an individual’s household, washing hands frequently, covering the face in public, staying home when sick and seeking testing immediately and self reporting if experiencing symptoms of the new virus.

Ott said the goal is to have the posters in town and in businesses before the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

She also suggested to Aspen City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday that similar messaging could be displayed at the entrance to town at the roundabout and possibly further downvalley at the Brush Creek Park and Ride.

The previous position that masks do not need to be worn on local trails has changed as well now that they are extremely populated and social distancing is next to impossible in some instances.

Education through city staffers in the field and posters placed at certain trailheads around the area will be employed.

“We’re being very tactical and hands-on with the approach and spreading the message and the expectations going forward,” she told council Tuesday evening.

City Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she believes it’s the right approach.

“I really appreciate that effort and I think it’s great,” she said. “It is exactly more of the real in-your-face, you can’t ignore it … you can’t say you didn’t see it type of approach that we really need right now.”

Council members, as they have since Aspen’s restaurants, lodges and retail stores opened at 50% capacity in May, lamented about the nonchalant response to public health orders by some business owners and their customers, and the lack of enforcement by the county.

The elected officials fear that if people do not adhere to public health orders and do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, the local economy will be forced to shut down again due to a spike in cases.

There has been an uptick in cases in the past two weeks that are concerning to public health officials, but the capacity at Aspen Valley Hospital remains in the “comfortable” stage.

If Pitkin County experiences 18 new cases in a week’s time, Gov. Jared Polis can rescind the variance the local government received from the state to open at 50%.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 85 confirmed cases in the county. When the economy opened up after a more than a two-month closure, the cases hovered in the high 50s.

Mayor Torre, who also is a voting member on the county board of health, said he’d like everyone to follow the recommendation that they curtail their social interactions with others to 60%.

“If we all do a little bit we can control this virus in our valley but it takes each one of us; the businesses have been regulated, have been put on warning and many are doing the best they can,” he said. “This community has gotten a lot of credit for the good work that we’ve done and the locals need to keep modeling that good behavior.

“The message to our visitors is you are welcome here with open arms and we ask you to follow those guidelines.”

The city is in the process of hiring two “consumer and employee health protection compliance specialists” to monitor the business activity in town, and educate owners and employees on public health orders, and determine whether they are meeting them.

They also can report perceived violations to the county, which is hiring consumer protection staffers to enforce local COVID-19 laws.

The city relaxed its public right-of-way encroachment laws to allow restaurants and retail stores to extend into parking spaces so they can operate at a larger scale given social distancing regulations in the public health order.

A total of 51 spaces have been taken in the downtown core, according to Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services.

Ott said she is working on budget estimates to replace the current white Jersey barriers that the city provided to some businesses with more aesthetically pleasing planters.

The money will come out of the city’s $6 million COVID-19 relief fund that council approved in April.

Council on Tuesday passed a resolution that allows the community development department to continue to enforce certain aspects of the land-use code on a case-by-case, pragmatic approach while considering the city’s economic recovery plan to enable to businesses to stay afloat by loosening the rules.

Of particular concern to Torre is signage and sandwich boards, outdoor vending and merchandising and lighting.

“I think we all need to remember that this is temporary and I think we all need to take a deep breath and just accept maybe some of the future that’s coming our way this summer,” he said. “It’s going to be a different summer, it’s going to feel different, it’s going to look different.

“This community needs to work together in this difficult time.”

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