BOCC votes against mask mandate; public health order possible for Grand

Following a Tuesday vote from the Grand County Commissioners opposing a countywide mask mandate, the county’s public health director has indicated she will entertain a public health order requiring masks.

Another week of discussions on a possible county mask mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a vote, in which two of three county commissioners were against requiring masks in public buildings where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Commissioner Rich Cimino dissented, which was a departure from his remarks last week.

“Last week I said I do not support a countywide mask requirement,” Cimino said. “I said I favored voluntary compliance. I wish to say now that I was wrong. I think the best policy for our county going forward is a countywide requirement for masks when inside places of business where social distancing can’t be achieved.”

Fraser and Winter Park voted to mandate masks in public places last week, with Grand Lake implementing a similar order Monday night. Cimino expressed his gratitude for the “leadership” shown by Fraser and Winter Park and emphasized how a countywide mask mandate would assist businesses.

“Our citizens are mostly complying, but we often have more visitors than full time residents,” he added. “We are a tourism county. A countywide mask requirement would significantly help businesses and their workers effectively ensure all tourists are correctly wearing masks inside places of business.”

Commissioners Merrit Linke and Kristen Manguso remained opposed to a mask mandate. Linke pointed to the low population density of Grand compared to other counties implementing a mask order.

“We do have people that are voluntarily complying, and we also are naturally socially distanced here,” Linke said.

He added that the enforcement and exceptions necessary for a mandate would be too great to justify an order, which he sees as overreach. Manguso agreed with Linke and added that the responsibility to prevent transmission sits with individuals.

“My husband — I’ve said this publicly and I’ll say this again — is super high risk,” she said. “I cannot rely on anybody in this room, or myself, to protect him. I can control one person, and it’s me.”

Manguso and Linke said they still encourage all residents and visitors to wear masks, but plan to keep compliance voluntary for the foreseeable future. They pointed to the fact that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has not implemented a mask order and their desire to not have restrictions more severe than the state.

Grand County Public Health Director Brene Belew-Ladue explained that masks are one of the only defenses the county has for reducing the spread of COVID-19 aside from social distancing and hand washing. She relayed a recent Goldman Sachs report that outlined the economic benefits of a mask mandate as a way to stop lockdowns and contain the spread.

“I believe we need a mask order, and I recommend that we have a mask order,” she said before the commissioners voted.

All three commissioners pointed to the low case numbers in Grand County and commended the work of county officials to keep the number low. However, Cimino expressed his worry that this could change quickly.

While public health officials have stopped tracking the number of tests in the county, they estimated that about 1,100 residents have been tested or roughly 7% of the county’s population. There have been 29 positive cases in Grand, with one death associated with COVID-19. The cause of that death has not yet been determined.

Belew-LaDue said that these numbers have been trending upward. There has also been an uptick in county visitors later testing positive for COVID-19, which Grand health officials still have to trace even though those are not included in the case count.

“There’s more disease in the county,” she emphasized.

She also warned that she expects an increase in cases this weekend, which marks two weeks since the Fourth of July.

Belew-LaDue explained that she felt a mask mandate is needed in order to keep county businesses open and for students to return to schools in the fall.

Grand has not been able to apply for the Protect Our Neighbors phase for reduced public health limitations, which would allow all businesses to open to 50% capacity and host up to 500 people at events. The county is considered to be a high transmission community until it has fewer than seven cases in two weeks.

She added that employees across the county have reached out to her expressing their fear of going to work, especially as some tourists refuse to wear masks.

“My next step is a public health order,” she said after the commissioners’ vote. “If I don’t look after the health of the public, I’m not doing my job.”

Manguso indicated that the commissioners would remain opposed to that. A public health order from Belew-LaDue would not necessarily need commissioner approval.

Kremmling Mayor Grover Pryor wrote a letter to the county this week asking that his town keep its ability to not impose a mask requirement, as the Kremmling town board has opted to let businesses decide whether or not to require masks.

Granby’s board will be discussing whether the trustees want to implement a town requirement at a special meeting Tuesday, July 21.

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