Basalt council passes new health order requiring face coverings in public places

People who are out in Basalt will be required to wear a face covering when in most public setting, according to an emergency ordinance passed Friday by the Basalt Town Council.

Basalt joins Aspen and Glenwood Springs as Roaring Fork Valley towns that require masks outside of the home for most of the month of May or longer. The Pitkin County Board of Health voted Thursday to approve mandatory masks in public places starting May 9.

The Basalt ordinance, which passed unanimously, starts immediately and states people have to wear a mask “when entering and while inside of a place of business open to the public, and in such other public indoor or outdoor places where persons are unable to maintain safe social distancing (e.g. six or more feet separation) from others not of their own household, except for momentary circumstances to accept payment, deliver goods, walk or ride past, or perform otherwise necessary tasks.”

There was discussion Friday about clarifying the penalty, and council agreed to follow the structure set for in Aspen: up to $50 for the first offense; $250 for a second offense; and the court’s discretion on a third offense.

New Mayor Bill Kane, who was sworn in Tuesday evening, said having a potential penalty in place for the order “is about deterrence. It’s not about fining people.”

Town manager Ryan Mahoney said while the police are out educating people, residents need to take a personal role in wearing a mask. He said officials know some people won’t abide by the order.  

“As with all of these health orders, PD has been enforcing and out and about educating folks. Enforcement on this, similar to what we’ve heard in Aspen and Glenwood, is not something we can do fully,” Mahoney said. “We can’t chase down every single person, we know that. Usually we have two officers on and covering the whole town. … We think this will help and increase use of masks overall. … We all have to take a personal responsibility in this.”

Police Chief Greg Knott said he is trying to limit an officer’s interaction with people, and the department would like to continue to educate people about the order and its purpose. Council agreed with that approach.

“We’ve made a very, very strong commitment to educate,” Knott said. “I still want the ability to do education and do as much as possible without going straight to punitive.” 

Mahoney clarified that masks are not required in situations where people would just be passing by each other, such as on the Rio Grande Trail or hiking or biking.

During public comment, some said they feel the resolution was a “knee-jerk reaction” and an infringement on their civil rights. Others brought up concerns regarding mental health with people walking around wearing masks.

Two commenters said they have been yelled at in public for not wearing a mask, and it is raising issues of residents policing and shaming other residents.

“We’re looking for people to be kind to each other,” Mahoney said. “We don’t need people to self-appoint as the mask police.”

Children 2 and younger, those who work in an office but do not have face-to-face contact with the public and those who have a health condition that a mask would impair them are exempt from the order.

The Basalt order would sunset on May 26, but the council, which has a meeting scheduled for that date, could extend it, Mahoney said.

Glenwood Springs City Council passed an ordinance in early April requiring face masks in public. It was set to expire Friday, but the council voted Thursday night to extend the order until at least June 4.

On Monday, the Aspen City Council passed a resolution requiring masks in public until at least May 27.

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