Tri-County health calls special meeting to revisit mask mandate

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AURORA | Nearly two months after Aurora lawmakers stopped short of imposing a mask mandate in the city to combat the spread of COVID-19, the board of the local health department is expected to hold an emergency meeting — according to Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman— to reconsider a possible edict.

The board of the Tri-County Health Department is scheduled to hold a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a possible mask requirement, Coffman said in a lengthy statement issued Thursday morning.

In May, Aurora and county health officials held multiple public discussions about the efficacy of a possible mask mandate, but never went through with such a requirement. Coffman said he never introduced a mask measure in the city because health officials never fully endorsed the idea.

But Coffman said Gov. Jared Polis seemed “surprised” when he learned that Aurora was not requiring masks in a recent phone call.

Polis didn’t speak to pushing for a mandate across the state or in Aurora, but through a spokesperson, pressed for the public to use masks.

“The science clearly shows that the more people who wear masks, the faster our economic re-opening can safely occur and the more freedom and mobility we have,” Polis said in a statement to the Sentinel. “We’ve got to crush this virus in Colorado, and wearing masks in public is one of the most effective tools we have.”

A smattering of other Colorado counties and municipalities began requiring face coverings in public places months ago.

The conversation surrounding masks has reignited as COVID-19 cases have spiked in multiple western states, and Colorado cases have gradually increased.

Cases in the Tri-County Health jurisdiction, which covers all of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, surpassed 10,000 earlier this week. The number of cases reported per day rose by nearly 30 percent in Arapahoe and Adams Counties, and doubled in Douglas County, between the second and fourth weeks of June.

“This recent uptick isn’t surprising, since we knew that when we began to increase testing and ease some of our social distancing restrictions, the numbers of cases would likely increase,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health, said in a statement. “However, as the experience in other states in many parts of the U.S. indicates, now is not a time to be complacent about key prevention strategies, including wearing a face mask in public, continuing to social distance, washing your hands frequently and getting tested and isolating when sick.”

If the Tri-County Health Board, which wasn’t slated to meet again until August, moves forward with a mask requirement, Coffman said he would favor that action in place of another stay-at-home order.

“The City of Aurora, not to mention the State of Colorado, cannot afford another step back when it comes to opening up our economy,” Coffman wrote in a statement. “And if the Tri-County Health Department puts out a mask mandate, instead of shuttering businesses, I will publicly endorse their efforts and do what I can to support compliance.”

It’s unclear what that compliance may look like.