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Snowmass Town Council passes mandatory mask ordinance

A view of Snowmass Town Hall on May 3, 2020.
Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times

Snowmass Town Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday requiring people to wear face coverings in public.

The ordinance, which Mayor Markey Butler directed town staff to create following council’s regular meeting Monday, takes effect immediately and aims to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Needless to say, we all want to get this place open and if we go this extra step I think we can help get this place open, hopefully sooner rather than later,” Butler said.

According to the emergency ordinance, face coverings are required inside of town business places, including common areas containing businesses, and/or any mode of transportation open to the public. A face covering is defined as “a uniform piece of material that securely covers a person’s nose and mouth and remains affixed in place without the use of one’s hands,” the ordinance says.

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Face coverings are also required in indoor or outdoor places where people are unable to maintain safe social distancing of at least 6 feet from others they do not live with.

Council members felt the public may have some confusion about this second part of the requirement, so as an example, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk explained it like this: When a person is able to walk by another person on a sidewalk or trail within 6 feet but also within a 10-minute time frame — continuing on alone or with members of their household — no mask is needed.

If a person is walking or hiking with another person who does not live in their household and is unable to maintain a 6 feet distance for more than 10 minutes, both people should wear masks.

“I think we have to remember that we’re a tourist community and that people are going to start coming here and are coming here now, so I think by enacting something like this it’s telling them we take our community safety seriously,” Shenk said.

Shenk and her fellow council members also discussed enforcement of the face covering ordinance. While Police Chief Brian Olson said people who do not abide by the ordinance may be subject to a fine, council members worried fines would send the wrong message to the community.

“I think this really should be about education and I’m not really too keen on having Brian’s officers write tickets,” said Councilman Bill Madsen of the face covering ordinance. “I do think it should be a pretty strong message to the community that we’re just trying to look out for each other.”

Olson assured Madsen and the rest of council that Snowmass police intend to take an education-based enforcement approach to the ordinance. He said he already spoke with Snowmass Center business owners and management Tuesday before the council meeting to ensure they were aware of the town’s anticipated face-covering requirement.

“As law enforcement officials, we don’t look forward to chasing people down and ticketing them for not wearing masks,” Olson said. “We will educate people as we make those contacts, provide them information, encourage them to mask up … we certainly expect to use our community policing philosophy and educate far and above before we consider citing somebody for not wearing a mask.”

Olson said the ordinance will only be in effect until it is superseded by a state or county public health order that “is at least, if not more restrictive.” This is expected to happen Saturday when the county’s updated “stay at home” public health order is set to go into effect to align more with the state’s “safer at home” order. The updated county order includes a mandatory mask requirement.

Beyond enforcement, council members also acknowledged that they had each received several emails and some phone calls from village residents generally concerned that the town face-covering requirement is government overreach.

Council members said that they understood these sentiments, but that the public health and safety of the entire community was of the utmost importance, which is why they chose to move forward with the face-covering requirement.

“One of our jobs is to protect the safety and health of our community. That’s first and foremost one of the most important things we all do as Town Council members,” Butler said. “We’ve got to modify some behaviors here and my goal is to get this community open. I think all of you collectively on the call want to get these businesses open, these guys and gals are hurting. And we have to be very cautious as we proceed.”

Town Council passed the ordinance in a 4-0 vote. Councilman Bob Sirkus was not present for the vote.

mvincent@aspentimes.com


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