Mask zone in downtown Aspen in effect Friday |

Mask zone in downtown Aspen in effect Friday

Elliot Mitchell, 9, left, Dina Diehl, and Aubrianna Diehl, 8, wear masks while walking through Aspen’s downtown core on Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The word “unprecedented” has been used at an unprecedented rate during these first few months of the COVID-19 crisis and once again, the city of Aspen is making an unprecedented move in mandating that people wear a face mask in a specific zone beginning Friday.

Facial coverings are required in all indoor and outdoor public spaces in an established zone between Original/Neal Street on the east, Aspen Street on the west, Aspen Mountain to the south and the Roaring Fork River to the north, as well as Herron and Newbury parks, the No Problem Joe Bridge area and the base of Highlands’ transportation and commercial areas. This zone encompasses the busiest areas of town, all of the core, main downtown parks and the Clark’s Market and post office areas.

City staffers from various departments will be dedicating a portion of their workdays walking in the zone, identifying people who are not wearing facial coverings and educating them on the ordinance that Aspen City Council passed on Tuesday.

“We expect a full-court press for the next week and have high visibility and make a lot of contact with people,” said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn on Thursday.

City employees who are being called on to help with education and distribution of face masks to those who are not wearing one will have some experience dealing with potential confrontational situations.

“It’s bound to happen that we are talking to people who have no idea what we are talking about,” Linn said, adding city staff expect pushback from some individuals, which has played out throughout the country.

But don’t expect tickets to be issued right off the bat; education and a soft approach is still the first line in compliance.

However, if police have repeated contact with an individual violating the ordinance, it will be documented and fines could result.

Fines for violating the public health order are $50 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and a mandatory court appearance for any subsequent offense with the penalties of as much as a $2,650 fine and one-year imprisonment or both per day for each violation.

The law will last until Nov. 4, the day after Election Day, unless amended by council between now and then.

That date was chosen at the suggestion of Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who said with people voting in person or dropping off their ballots at the clerk and recorders office, it could be difficult to social distance from others, so mandated face masks seems appropriate.

The emergency ordinance was passed unanimously by City Council and is centered on science that suggests covering your mouth and nose prevents the aerosol spread of what has been described as a highly contagious virus.

The new law eliminates the previous rule that masks only need to be worn if a person is going to be within 6 feet of another and are not part of the same household.

The mandatory mask zone is to simplify the message that facial coverings should be worn at all times when in public and near people.

There are no exemptions for those who are exercising, whether it’s running, biking, hiking or any other type of similar activity.

But there are exemptions like those who are stationary while eating al fresco, as well those indoors.

However, if people are entering or exiting a restaurant or moving about in the establishment, they must wear a face mask.

There also are exceptions for people younger than 10 years old and those who have medical conditions. Also exempt are those inside a private residence or working in a professional office who do not have face-to-face interactions with the public or co-workers. Performers who are 25 feet away from spectators also are exempt.

Aspen joins cities like Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge, as well as several in California like West Hollywood and Napa, that have established facial-covering zones.

Additionally, Pitkin County’s new public health order went into effect Thursday and features two significant new changes.

First, the size of informal social gatherings was reduced from 50 people to no more than 10 people. Gatherings of up to 50 are allowed, but organizers must obtain a permit for the event from Pitkin County Public Health and file a COVID-19 safety plan.

Second, the county’s board of health also decided to mandate the wearing of face masks outside when people not of the same household are within 6 feet of each other. The rule includes wearing a mask when passing people on the street and on trails, though it does not apply to bicycle riders.

All other aspects of the previous public health order remain in effect, including keeping restaurant capacity at 50%, keeping bars closed and wearing face masks at all times while inside businesses and public buildings.

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