Decision on Aspen’s mask ordinance extension to come later |

Decision on Aspen’s mask ordinance extension to come later

Council remains split on extension of mask mandate

People walk through downtown Aspen in the mandatory mask zone on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

With coronavirus cases on the decline and Pitkin County back in the less restrictive Yellow level on the state’s COVID-19 dial, the Aspen City Council again discussed extending the facial mask ordinance into June and floated the idea of eliminating the outdoor mask zone at its Tuesday meeting.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein suggested amending the ordinance to eliminate the outdoor rule, which would put the city in line with the current Pitkin County mask ordinance.

Masks would be required outdoors only when people cannot remain more than 6 feet apart; they are currently required at all times when not eating or drinking in Aspen’s downtown core.

Because it is an emergency ordinance, the extension must pass by a super-majority, meaning four of the five council members have to approve it.

It was moved to second reading by a 4-1 vote Tuesday. The final vote would come at the April 27 meeting, four days before the ordinance is set to expire.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said last month and reiterated Tuesday that he was against extending the ordinance past when it is set to sunset May 1 if the current language remains.

He voted Tuesday against moving the ordinance to second reading but said that he might change his mind when it comes up April 27 if the outdoor requirements change.

“If I vote no now as it is, but then Ward’s change (to the outdoor mask zone) comes back the next time, can I vote yes the next time? I can do that?” he asked.

After city attorney Jim True confirmed that Mesirow can change his mind, Mesirow voted no — “for now,” he said.

Mayor Torre voted in favor of moving the ordinance extension to second reading but reiterated a statement he made last month that he was unsure if he would vote yes on the current language moving forward.

Torre said he wants the rules and messaging to be clear across the area and doesn’t want to be a “doughnut hole” of different regulations in Aspen compared to surrounding communities.

“For me, I’m not really sure which way I feel about this. I kind of want to get to something that is easily followable for people,” said Torre, who was sworn in before the meeting for his second two-year term. “I don’t really want to be, as I keep saying, the hole in the doughnut. I don’t want to be the only place that is trying to enforce a mask zone.”

Snowmass Village has extended its mask zones — Snowmass Mall, Town Center and Base Village — until June 7, which is the date Aspen is considering.

Pitkin County’s mask rules, which do not have an expiration date, require masks indoors at all times and only outdoors when 6-foot physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Aspen council members Ann Mullins, Rachael Richards and Hauenstein said Tuesday they would support the extension until June 7 regardless of whether the outdoor requirement was relaxed.

“June 7 is not that far away,” Richards said, later adding, “I will take whatever grief comes with extending it to June 7, but I will support extending it to June 7.”

Mullins and Mesirow said they might support the extension if the outdoor mandate was dropped.

Richards said she would “keep thinking about it.”

“At second reading, I really invite the conversation about amending this to remove the outdoor zone. I do want to have that discussion,” Hauenstein said. “May is a pretty quiet month. I don’t see that it would have that much effect on businesses to extend this another month and seven days or so. It doesn’t create a doughnut hole that Torre mentioned. … I’d like to have that discussion (of eliminating the outdoor zone) if it requires that to get it over the finish line.”

Council members said during their March 22 meeting they were concerned when just hours before that meeting the state moved the county up to Orange level restrictions after the case counts increased in the week leading up to the change.

The county has since moved back to Yellow level restrictions, which went into effect Saturday morning.

At the March meeting, council went against the wishes of the Aspen Resort Chamber Association and city staff, which both suggested the mask mandate sunset after May 1.

Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, wrote in a March 19 memo 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.

“I’m just asking everyone to marinate on this for the next two weeks,” Hauenstein said Tuesday of the proposed change in the outdoor rules.

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