Elizabeth Milias: Aspen’s vigilante mask police — just stop!

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

As Aspen slowly works its way toward “herd immunity,” with cases creeping up now that we have widespread testing and our doors open, it’s a series of continual adjustments. For a while there, it was “When you’re outside, let the mask slide,” which seemed to make sense when town was inhabited by recently emancipated locals during the offseason. But as business has picked up, that laissez-faire attitude has been deemed incompatible with keeping “the curve” within bounds.

Now that our tourists are back in force and hotels are open to 100% capacity, a back-pedal to “I will cover my face in public” has been added to the tried and true social distancing, hand-washing, staying home when sick and getting tested when one has symptoms. Outdoor mask-wearing is now required by our local health officials who are asking us all to wear a mask when we are in a public place of business, on public transportation and when a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained from others for more than 10 minutes. Masks are most certainly not anyone’s ideal summer accessory, but they obviously imply a certain level of respect for others. I personally hate the things and question their necessity outdoors, however, my desire to see Aspen the tourist destination not just survive but thrive outweighs the personal inconvenience and discomfort of a little mask-wearing. (I really want us to have a ski season, so getting a handle on the tourism thing this summer is crucial.)

The question of mask enforcement looms large, but the last thing we need is “mask police.” It’s ugly, big brother-y and everything my fierce libertarianism abhors. Notably, a “street team,” featuring polo-shirted city, county and Aspen Chamber employees, will roam the downtown core during peak periods to educate the public about Aspen’s recommended best practices. I’ve been assured that these folks will not be enforcers, just friendly ambassadors. Think of wearing a mask in public as a courtesy. (In my opinion, their services would be equally appreciated for enforcing the directional signs in the grocery store aisles.) But alas, City Council has instituted a midnight curfew for businesses so heads up for more draconian crackdowns.

Enter the vigilantes. Here we are in the Wild West, so it was bound to happen. Whether it was the busy-body who took it upon herself recently to enter several local restaurants’ dining rooms and interrupt patrons demanding to see their masks, or the hysteric who did not appreciate my neck gaiter-style mask and lectured me on Aspen’s “mask law,” I know they’re out there. People, stop. In the case of my chastiser, it turns out she thought I was a tourist because she had never seen me before, which actually made it worse. When she lectured me about how “at risk” she is because of a medical condition, I saw the mask-wearing debate in an entirely new light, and it was not entirely sympathetic.

I want Aspen to remain open and for the number of cases not to exceed our capacity. Getting shut down again would be devastating. But for those who believe absolutely everyone here must take precautions in order to protect them from cooties because they simply cannot afford to catch them, I am going to draw the line. COVID-19 is no laughing matter, and a segment of the population really should do everything in their power never to contract it, but where is the personal responsibility? If you are someone with known underlying issues and you absolutely cannot risk contracting the disease, did you ever think that the one thing you ought not do is leave home during a global pandemic? I’m stating the obvious when I say that Aspen is nothing short of glorious in the summer, but is gallivanting about in a mere mask while harboring serious health vulnerabilities the best personal decision? I’m going with no.

I am comfortable being out in the current environment. I also recognize and respect others’ decisions to proceed differently. There is no right answer to the “living in the age of corona” question. What’s good for the goose is most certainly not good for the gander, and for the foreseeable future, everyone must continue to assess his or her own personal risks.

Meanwhile, we’re desperately, and often creatively, trying to revive our local economy, and it’s a matter of financial survival for many. We’re taking dramatic steps to be both safe and thoughtful. But for those with fragile health circumstances to assume that they must be the common denominator for our collective behavior, nothing we do can ever fully ensure their safety. No one can, no one that is, but themselves.

As much as we’d all like Aspen to be done with COVID, it’s not. I can’t imagine a better place to ride it out, but my risk profile is mine alone. Contact at