Pitkin County health board urges residents to wear masks in stores, other places

Colorado Governor Jared Polis makes a point by wearing a face mask during a news conference to update the state's efforts in battling the spread of the new coronavirus in the governor's mansion Monday, April 13, 2020, in Denver. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Pitkin County Board of Health joined their federal and state colleagues Monday in recommending that residents wear masks in stores and other areas where they can’t practice social distancing.

The board’s action is an advisory and not an order, said Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann, and does not have a legal component.

“It’s one extra step if you’re unable to maintain social distancing,” she said.

Both President Donald Trump and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis have encouraged people in recent weeks to wear masks in public to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

The advisory does not mention wearing masks while using area trails. Brent Miller, a board of health member, suggested posting the mask advisory at area trailheads and other spots where people are likely to gather to demonstrate the seriousness of the recommendation, though the idea appeared not to resonate.

The mask recommendation won’t include children younger than 2 years old, who should not have cloth face coverings according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Dr. Kimberly Levin, an Aspen Valley Hospital emergency physician, emphasized that on one hand residents should not wear medical or surgical masks and reserve those for health care professionals. On the other, however, homemade masks have not been shown to be nearly as effective as surgical masks at stopping the virus, though they are better than nothing, she said.

“They should not change anyone’s behavior,” Levin said. “Social distancing is just as important whether you wear a mask or not.”

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo encouraged board members to make masks an advisory and not an order because enforcement could get dicey.

The Board of Health will meet again Thursday to discuss numerous other topics, including unwinding public health orders.

Pitkin County’s latest public health order confining residents with non-essential jobs to their homes except for trips to the doctor, grocery and outdoor exercise within social distancing guidelines expires April 30.

Pitkin County through Sunday has reported 49 positive COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the outbreak and two deaths, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environment. The state reported 7,691 cases as of Sunday in 56 of Colorado’s 64 counties with 308 deaths.

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