Denver Businesses With 95 Percent of Staff, Customers Vaccinated Exempt From Mask Mandate

Starting Wednesday, everyone older than age 2 will once again be required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces in Denver, according to the Associated Press.

However, businesses that prove at least 95 percent of their employees and customers are fully vaccinated will not have to require masks. The order announced by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock mirrors similar orders announced by counties that cover Denver's suburbs recently.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said at a news conference Tuesday that a statewide mask mandate is not currently under consideration, but he supports city and county health departments making the decisions to enact the mandates. Polis said it was the responsibility of local health departments to "function within the social license of the area that they represent."

Polis cited the state's vaccination rate as a reason he isn't currently considering a mask mandate, as the state has 81 percent of eligible adults vaccinated, with 92 percent of residents over 65 fully vaccinated.

"Hospitals are filling up by those of you who have chosen not to get vaccinated," Polis said.

Hancock referenced hospitalizations in his announcement of the mandate, saying it was necessary to attempt to ease the pressure currently being felt by local hospitals. Denver Health, the city's public hospital, has repeatedly sent patients to other hospitals because of how overwhelmed their emergency room staff is dealing with COVID cases.

Denver's Executive Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment Bob McDonald largely placed the blame on unvaccinated citizens for the need of the mandate, citing that 83 percent of the region's hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Michael Hancock, Denver, COVID Mask Mandate
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced a new mask mandate in Denver will go into effect Wednesday, citing a rise in COVID cases. Above, Hancock talks to reporters outside the West Wing following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of city and state political leaders about infrastructure, at the White House on July 14, 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The health boards covering Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties in suburban Denver passed similar mandates Monday that will also take effect Wednesday. Boulder and Larimer counties have also issued mask mandates in the absence of a statewide mask order.

Between treating more COVID-19 patients and people who delayed care during the height of the pandemic, hospital workers are exhausted and need help from the public.

"Our system is on the brink of collapse," Denver Health CEO Robin Wittenstein said.

Citing hospital capacity concerns earlier this month, Denver area public health directors had urged Polis to issue a statewide order requiring people to have vaccine passports to enter places such as bars, restaurants, gyms and sporting events and require masks for the unvaccinated in public indoor settings.

While the state did not do so, the state health department issued an order requiring that people show proof of vaccination to attend indoor, unseated public events with more than 500 people in the Denver area.

Under an order issued Sunday by the state health department, venues that already require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from patrons can continue accepting proof of a negative test through Dec. 1. After that, anyone wanting to attend events will have to show proof they are fully vaccinated through Dec. 31.

The Democratic governor said the state "to a certain extent" needs "to be ready to handle the unvaccinated filling our hospitals," adding that it's still their responsibility if they don't take the extra precautions like getting vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves.

"When it becomes a collective responsibility is when our hospitals are at capacity and other people aren't able to get the surgeries or procedures that they need," Polis said.