With a few exceptions, fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask indoors in Pitkin County, nor socially distance.
During Thursday’s special Board of Health meeting, board members instead favored aligning the county’s public health order with state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
According to CDC.gov, fully vaccinated people “can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
Last month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis amended his executive order to encourage but no longer require not fully vaccinated individuals to wear a face covering indoors, except in certain settings like schools.
Prior to the board of health voting to drop the county’s indoor mask mandate beginning 12:01 a.m. Friday, Pitkin County Medical Officer Dr. Kim Levin said the pandemic was still very much alive and questioned whether the board was airing on the side of simplicity over public health.
“I see what’s occurring today to be kind of in the name of simplifying policy and making consistency, and that priority has somewhat prioritized over safety,” Levin said. “Even though we’re voting on a policy decision, it’s a little bit of policy and consistency over health at this point.”
According to Pitkin County data, 63% of the county’s residents have been fully vaccinated via either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, and 75% have received at least one dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s two-shot vaccines.
“We are certainly not at what this elusive herd immunity is,” Levin said.
Nothing in Pitkin County’s public health order prevents private businesses, nonprofit organizations or other entities from requiring customers to mask up before entering their establishment. Although fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask — except on public transportation or if a business specifies otherwise — some individuals may still choose to wear a face covering, which Levin and the board of health agreed people must respect.
“Even with this guidance, wearing masks indoors is still going to be the right decision for many people,” Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County Public Health interim director, said. “People who have not been vaccinated. People who are immunocompromised. People who are setting examples for kids who are too young to be vaccinated.”
In accordance with state and CDC guidance, unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated individuals must still wear a mask in schools (preschool through 12th grade), healthcare settings, the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (staff only), jails and prisons.
People also must put on a face covering — regardless of their vaccination status — while utilizing forms of public transportation such as planes, buses or taxis.
Pitkin County has routinely implemented COVID-19 restrictions that go above and beyond those already put in place by the state, which, at times, has caused confusion especially when neighboring counties have not necessarily been on board.
Garfield County’s three-member board of county commissioners, which doubles as the county’s board of health, at times, has pushed back against the state’s restrictions and Eagle County dropped its mask mandate and all of its other COVID-19 public health orders on May 19.
In a media briefing following Thursday’s board of health meeting, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock made clear that although mask requirements were largely gone, the virus that has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States wasn’t.
“The pandemic isn’t over yet,” Peacock said. “I still wear a mask in public places; still intend to wear a mask in public places and it’s not about protecting me, it’s about my responsibility to others even though I’m vaccinated. It is a choice though.”