First of all, I can sympathize with those who wish to keep our community safe. These are tumultuous times, and given the shock corona has sent throughout the world I can understand why people would be fearful and embrace a “better safe than sorry” approach to managing the virus.
Fear is a powerful motivator; however, decisions based around fear aren’t always the best path forward for a community. Because of this, I have composed some questions which I feel might help illuminate some incongruence that might be driving the outdoor mask order.
Question 1: What makes us convinced that the virus is spread while outside?
It wasn’t long ago that the U.S. saw mass protests in many of its major cities. New York in particular had massive gatherings of people marching shoulder to shoulder in groups while chanting. Did NYC face an outbreak after this? Quite the contrary, a few weeks ago this city of 8.3 million people had exactly zero COVID-19 related deaths.
And when you look at the areas of the country which coronavirus is spreading the most right now you quickly find one common denominator. All of them are facing unbearable heat.
What happens in 100-degree-plus weather? People stay inside in the air conditioning.
Could it be that time spent inside is one of the main contributing factors to the spread of COVID-19? Might the mandatory outdoor mask ordinance cause people to spend less time outside than they otherwise would have? I think there’s a decent chance of that happening, and it would likely be a net negative for our community if that were the case.
Question 2: Is it possible Aspen has already had to deal with coronavirus?
During the winter months, almost every person who travels to Aspen has to go through the Denver airport and fly on a tiny plane to get here. I find it almost an impossibility that COVID-19 wasn’t introduced to our community earlier. Those who lived here through the winter remember a nasty bug that went around town January through March. If someone can explain how this highly contagious airborne disease wouldn’t have already made its way through Aspen, a city which takes on thousands of international travelers, then I’m all ears.
Question 3: Why are we assuming Aspen has a similar risk profile to Texas?
This may sound insensitive to some, but most of the areas in Texas which are facing high hospitalizations are rated as the most obese cities on planet earth, whereas the state of Colorado is rated No.1 in the U.S. in regards to fitness. It seems only logical (and there’s some science to back this up) that this virus has a more severe impact on those that are overweight or unhealthy. The eyeball test alone says that our population is extremely fit. Perhaps this is why Pitkin County has only faced two deaths since the crisis began?
Question 4: Why now, and why a Nov. 4 reevaluation date?
When beginning to write this, I was shocked to find out that Pitkin County has only had two deaths since the crisis began. One of those being a 94-year-old man with “serious underlying medical issues.” All deaths are tragic; however, this one occurred towards the end of March, whereas town has been packed with people walking about mask free for two months now. Unless something has changed over the last several days, it doesn’t seem that people roaming about without masks has caused illness or deaths to result in our community.
And unless I’ve misread something, we’ve come up with Nov. 4 as a time to revisit the policy? This leaves me bewildered. Have we honestly chosen to hand off the autonomy of deciding what’s best for our community to Joe Biden or Donald Trump?
Question 5: What are we sacrificing in regards to mental health?
Suicide hotline calls are up 600% nationwide since the coronavirus crisis began. In a county where suicides are over three times the national average, could requiring facial coverings outdoors also play a contributing factor in regards to poor mental health?
In the end, it’s possible that the outdoor mask mandate results in less people getting sick and even potentially dying in our community. I’m not sure the data makes this clear though, and there’s another side of the coin, which I feel can’t be quantified. What is it that we lose by not being able to take a breath of unfiltered outdoor air, witness a stranger’s smile, see our fellow community members’ facial expressions, or hear them speak clearly without it being muffled through a mask? How much does more time spent outdoors interacting socially boost our mental health and vitamin D levels in regards to combating this virus?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I hope the powers that be will muster the courage to think them through. We’d be best served to make decisions based on the reality of dangers faced by our population and our community. Flu and ski season are both right around the corner, and if we let fear dictate the social interaction we’re willing to allow, then we might lose what makes Aspen special in the first place, that being the connection between the incredible human beings that visit and call this place home.