Face masks to be required in Pitkin County buildings
Any member of the public who enters a Pitkin County building starting Monday will have to wear a facemask because of high local COVID-19 transmission rates, county commissioners decided Tuesday.
In addition, all county employees are being asked mask up and “model this behavior” when they enter county buildings and move around public spaces like bathrooms, hallways and kitchen areas, said Kara Silbernagel, county policy and project manager. Employees will not have wear masks at their desks.
The mask guidelines will be in effect as long as Pitkin County remains in what the Centers for Disease Control call “substantial” or “high” rates of COVID-19 transmission, she said.
“We are at the beck and call of the virus spikes and we have to be flexible,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.
Silbernagel initially suggested that visitors to Pitkin County buildings would not be subject to the mask requirement and that only county employees would have to mask up, but commissioners felt differently.
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“I would say that if you want to enter a (county) building, wear a mask,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “We need to get the numbers back down. Let’s do this. Let’s be serious about it.”
Clapper said she was aware that constantly changing rules around masks confuses the public, but she advocated for the same mask policy as Poschman.
“I hate to agree with Greg on this, but I think I do,” she said. “We need to be protective on our own turf. We need to put our money where our mouth is.”
The CDC guidance says that counties where the COVID-19 incidence rate is more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days are in the “high” transmission category. Areas with “substantial” risk of transmission are those with transmission levels between 50.99 and 100.
Pitkin County has been in the substantial category since the CDC released the guidance July 27, Silbernagel said. But according to the county’s “COVID status” dashboard, the incidence rate is dropping.
The incidence rate hit a high of more than 208 cases in seven days on Aug. 3, but has gradually decreased to 146 on Saturday, 112 on Sunday and 101 Monday, according to dashboard statistics.
Pitkin County has registered 18 new cases of COVID-19 among residents in the past seven days, with additional eight cases coming from people who live outside the county, according to the county’s COVID-19 statistics dashboard Tuesday.
The number of breakthrough cases — or positive infections among fully vaccinated residents — also continues to rise. That number stood at 94 as of Thursday and had risen to 107 Tuesday, which was 0.7% of the total number of residents who have been fully vaccinated, according to the statistics dashboard.
So far, 23 cases of the delta variant have been detected among county residents, but local public health officials have attributed the recent surge in cases to the more contagious variant. Results from testing for the variant can take weeks.
Commissioners on Tuesday also discussed what to do about mask-wearing at commissioner meetings, which are held inside the Pitkin County Building on Main Street.
For the board’s weekly work sessions, when commissioners and a few staff members are generally the only people in the room, no masks will be required as long as social distancing can be maintained. Members of the public must wear a mask, however, if they want to attend, and everyone will wear masks as the bi-monthly regular meetings, they decided.
Commissioner meetings in which a particular subject is guaranteed to draw a crowd — like one next week on a proposal to add skiing terrain to Aspen Mountain — will likely be handled using an overflow room next to the commissioners’ meeting room, where the meeting will be available via video link, and possibly holding people outside depending on how many show up.
The number of people inside the main meeting room will be controlled, and it’s possible that members of the public who want to speak may be shuttled from one room to the other to make their comments, according to the commissioners’ discussion Tuesday. All members of the public who attend the Aug. 25 meeting where the addition of the Pandora’s terrain will be discussed will be required to wear a facemask.
The public and others involved also will be able to watch and participate virtually in the Aug. 25 meeting. County administration staff will work out the logistics of that meeting in the coming days.
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As a mask mandate is reinstated in Pitkin County, Aspen’s elected officials signal the importance of what wearing a facial covering means.