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Pitkin County lifts mask mandate, social distancing for fully vaccinated people

Change starts Friday after Board of Health’s unanimous vote Thursday

Fully vaccinated people in Pitkin County no longer will be required to wear facemasks or practice social distancing in indoor or outdoor settings beginning Friday.

Members of the Pitkin County Board of Health voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to align with state and federal guidance releasing fully vaccinated from the masking and distancing rules that have been in effect for most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think this is the right thing to do now,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who also chairs the health board. “Of course, if we need to change it, we will.”



The federal mask mandate will remain in effect for users of public transportation whether a person is vaccinated or not. The new public health order exempting vaccinated people in Pitkin County from wearing masks and practicing social distancing goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, however, emphasized that while the new rules eliminate the mask requirement, the use of masks is still strongly recommended to protect children who can’t get vaccinated, others with health issues that cannot receive vaccines and others.



“The pandemic is not over yet,” Peacock said. “I still wear a mask in public. It’s about my responsibility to others. It is a choice, though.”

The county’s board of health last met May 13 and decided to adopt the then-current guidance recommending that people could go unmasked in settings where 80% of people were verified to be vaccinated. Not long after, however, the guidance changed to allow the vaccinated to remove masks and abandon social distancing in most settings.

Most of Pitkin County’s neighbors — including Eagle, Summit and Garfield counties — already have adopted the newer guidance, making Pitkin County’s situation confusing and out of date, said Jordana Sabella, public health director.

“It’s led to a lot of confusion because our order no longer aligns (with our neighbors and the state),” she said.

Unvaccinated people or those with compromised immune systems or parents of children under the age of 12 — who are still not allowed to receive the vaccines — should continue to wear masks in most settings, Sabella said. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend masks for that age group and says parents should wear them around young children to set an example, said Linda Vieira, a member of the board of health.

Masks also are required by the state for people who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated at school settings, motor vehicle departments, jails and prisons, many health care settings and nursing homes. Also, individual businesses and entities like performing arts venues can require customers to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Dr. Kim Levin, Pitkin County’s medical officer and emergency room physician at Aspen Valley Hospital, said Thursday that the board was prioritizing policy over safety. She reiterated that the pandemic is still rampant worldwide and that respecting people who continue to choose to wear a mask for whatever reason is important.

“We are certainly not at this elusive herd immunity (level yet),” Levin said.

Local public health officials estimate that 63% of Pitkin County residents have been fully vaccinated, while 75% of residents have had at least one vaccine dose, Sabella said.

The board of health next will meet July 15.

 


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