Snowmass Town Council extends mask mandate until June

Face coverings still required in Snowmass Center, Base Village, Snowmass Mall

Skiers wearing masks walk into Snowmass Base Village after skiing Fanny Hill on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Keep those masks on when walking outside in one of Snowmass Village’s three commercial hubs: Town Council voted April 5 on second reading to extend an ordinance designating mandatory mask zones in Base Village, the Snowmass Center and the Snowmass Mall through June 7.

Council members Tom Fridstein, Tom Goode, Alyssa Shenk and Bob Sirkus voted in favor of the extension at the regular meeting; Mayor Bill Madsen was the dissenting vote.

That’s sooner than the extension originally specified — it would otherwise have been scheduled to sunset Sept. 30 if council had approved it as-is, according to a copy of the ordinance included with the agenda packet — but later than the staff-recommended expiration date of April 20.

The staff recommendation suggested that the town allow the current Snowmass Village-specific mask mandate to expire April 20; the ordinance requires masks at all times (indoors and outdoors) except when eating or drinking in Snowmass Mall, Base Village and the Snowmass Center.

Instead, staff proposed the town should align with current county, state and federal guidance that mostly requires face coverings indoors and on public transit but not outdoors where 6 feet of distancing is possible.

Consistency was the goal with the staff recommendation, according to Town Manager Clint Kinney and Police Chief Brian Olson.

“The confusion, the difficulty of enforcement, the inconsistencies — I’ll let Brian speak to some of that — just knowing all of that, it just becomes difficult for enforcement,” Kinney said. “Because we put those important rules in place, … we still believe it’s a good idea as quickly as we put them in place to be open-minded about lifting these restrictions.”

Aligning with Pitkin County’s guidance (masks only required outside when 6-foot distancing isn’t possible) could help with enforcement of face covering rules, Olson said. It can be difficult to explain to someone in a parking lot in the Snowmass Center, for instance, that they must wear a mask even though they are far more than 6 feet away from others.

“From an enforcement standpoint we have to be able to defend the practicality and the reasonableness of the law, and to be in compliance from the public,” Olson said. “And it’s a lot easier done when we understand where we are right now and that distancing is the best way to go and the fresh air and masking up when you’re not around anybody else is not as practical as perhaps it was at one time.”

Madsen, who voted to let the mandate expire April 20, also expressed concerns about the consistency and practicality of the current requirements. Under the ordinance, anyone walking outside in the Snowmass Mall, Snowmass Center or Base Village must be masked, but anyone sitting outside dining right next to the sidewalk is exempt.

“The consistency of it just doesn’t really make sense. … It just doesn’t make sense if you’re wearing a mask walking down the mall, but once you’re seated, it’s OK (not to wear one),” Madsen said.

“I just don’t think we’re getting the effect out of it,” he said. “If we wanted to really ensure people’s safety and health, we should tighten up where people are in closer proximity.”

But for several council members, consistency also was an argument against letting the ordinance expire.

“It is really important, as we saw early in the pandemic, to be consistent with what Aspen’s doing, because like I said before, if you’re coming to Aspen, you’re coming to Snowmass, and vice versa,” Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said. “If they’re keeping their mask zones and then you come to Snowmass and it’s all bets off and you can do whatever you want, I just think that’s even more confusing.”

Aligning with Aspen’s mask policy was in part what led the Snowmass council to approve the extension on first reading March 15. Council members OK’d the first reading while still unsure what Aspen would decide to ensure the second reading would take place before the Snowmass ordinance expired.

Aspen City Council members expressed an interest in extending the city mandate beyond May 1 when they met last month and will consider an extension on first reading at a meeting Tuesday.

Plus, Councilman Bob Sirkus noted, even state guidance is no longer as consistent as it once was.

Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide mask mandate April 3 — it now lasts through May 2 — but also relaxed face-covering requirements under that mandate.

Counties on the Green level of the state’s COVID-19 dial are exempt from mask requirements in many businesses and stores, and for counties that fall into the Blue level or above on the COVID-19 dial, mask requirements in most indoor public spaces apply only if there are 10 or more unvaccinated people in the room. (There are some exceptions where the mandate still universally applies, like schools, hospitals and personal facilities. Businesses can still set their own mask requirements.)

“The state seems to be going in the opposite direction from my perspective,” Sirkus said. “It actually gave me a lot of anxiety when Polis came out last month and said we’re going to drop outdoor masking and the only thing we’re going to care about is indoors and public transportation. I was really worried about that.”

Sirkus expressed concerns about the spikes in local COVID-19 cases that have occurred after most major holidays and vacation periods when the area sees an uptick in visitors; removing the outdoor mask requirement in designated mask zones would be unlikely to help that situation, he said.

However small a difference mask-wearing makes in outdoor spaces, it would still be worthwhile to continue to implement an indoor and outdoor mask mandate in Snowmass Village’s three busiest hubs, Sirkus said.

“It’s low, low risk — but it’s still risk,” Sirkus said.

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