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Commissioners: Indoor mask mandate would not be enforceable

Pitkin County leaders talk about possible next steps ahead of the Board of Health’s monthly meeting

Visitors, masked and unmasked, meander through the walking mall in downtown Aspen on Aug. 6, 2021. Pitkin County commissioners said Tuesday trying to enforce a renewed mask mandate would be difficult, if not “futile.” (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

With local COVID-19 case counts continuing to rise, the possibility of an indoor mask mandate at this week’s Pitkin County Board of Health meeting was on county commissioners’ minds Tuesday.

But if their informal discussion was any indication of the outcome at Thursday’s Board of Health meeting, indoor masks probably are not in the county’s near future.

“Issues of enforceability weigh on me,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman, who chairs the board of health and worried about passing the responsibility of a mask mandate on to local restaurant staff and other workers. “That’s where the hesitance is.”



Commissioner Francie Jacober said she sympathized with business owners who refuse to place the responsibility of mask enforcement on employees, while Commissioner Patti Clapper called such mandates “futile.”

Board Chairwoman Kelly McNicholas Kury, the mother of two young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, wondered what adults can legitimately be asked to do when the path to health has been clear since the vaccines were introduced.




“Our recommendation to wear a mask is not broadly adhered to,” she said. “Wearing a mask would keep the community healthier. But I recognize the roadblocks.”

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock pointed out another roadblock when he said he and his staff have gotten no indication that the state or neighboring counties plan to implement an indoor mask mandate in the near future. Requiring indoor masks in Pitkin County only would send residents and visitors back to the confusing days of inconsistent COVID-related rules within in the same state, he said.

Pitkin County Public Health staff do not plan to recommend that members of the board of health implement an indoor mask mandate Thursday, Peacock said. However, board members are likely to spend significant time Thursday talking about masks, and can adopt whatever they see fit, he said.

Three possible outcomes to the meeting include endorsing the county’s current strong recommendation to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance to wear masks indoors, issuing a public health advisory to wear masks though that is also not enforceable, or implementing an indoor mask mandate, Peacock said.

Pitkin County has logged 62 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, including 42 residents and 20 out of county cases. The incidence rate Monday was 237 per 100,000 residents, well above the level of 100 the CDC considers a “high” rate of transmission, according to online Pitkin County COVID-19 dashboards.

In addition, the percentage of fully vaccinated residents testing positive for the virus continues to rise, with 187 total breakthrough cases since April 1. That works out to 1.3% of the total number of fully vaccinated residents in Pitkin County.

The main change in local statistics, Peacock said, is that two people have been admitted to Aspen Valley Hospital with COVID-like symptoms in the past two weeks. Those are the first admissions in at least two months.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for immune-compromised people, though it has not been approved yet for the general population. Peacock said Tuesday he’s heard that authorization could come by mid-September. It’s not yet clear when the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines could be approved for booster doses, he said.

VACCINE UPDATES

Pitkin County announced Tuesday that residents interested in receiving a booster or additional vaccine dose should go to https://redcap.pitkincounty.com/surveys/?s=4EKPXJKT8KYW4L7W and fill out a form public health authorities will use to contact them when and if boosters are approved for the general public, according to a news release.

“By filling out this form, it will help our team understand the need and interest in the community and how we move forward with future vaccine clinics in Pitkin County,” said Carly Senst, county vaccine coordinator. “If someone is already identified as immunocompromised and eligible for an additional dose per the federal guidelines, they should consult their physician directly about how to receive the additional dose.”


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