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Don’t Ditch Your Mask Just Yet. Some Places In Northern Colorado Still Require Them, For Now

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Matt Bloom
/
KUNC
A sign at a Walgreens in Denver lets visitors know the store still requires masks on May 18, 2021. Colorado dropped its mask mandate last week, but many businesses still require them.

It didn’t take long for the Sundance Steakhouse & Saloon in Fort Collins to loosen up its mask policy.

“Full capacity + No social distancing = Let’s get this party started!!!!,” the saloon’s owners posted to their Facebook account shortly after Gov. Jared Polis announced Colorado would drop its mask mandate for vaccinated residents.

In the days since, the self-described music venue, dance hall, rodeo event center and night club has hosted a live concert, removed signs reminding customers around the building that masks are required for everyone and restarted group dance lessons.

“We CANNOT wait to have a normal life around here,” the saloon’s post read. “We have asked you to help us follow the rules for the sake of being a responsible member of our local business community, and we thank you!!”

With the blessing of state and local health officials, many Northern Colorado businesses have followed suit and dropped mask requirements that have been in place for nearly a year. Meanwhile, other institutions, such as schools and hospitals, are holding on to theirs, taking a more cautious approach to returning to normal life.

The varying policy shifts have given rise to a patchwork of mask requirements across the region. Public health officials, in response, have urged residents to keep face coverings on-hand in case they encounter a business or building that requires them.

And many still do.

King Soopers said this week it will continue requiring shoppers to keep their faces covered until May 20. In the meantime, the company is encouraging workers to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, we are reviewing current safety practices, the CDC’s latest guidance, and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy,” the company said in a statement.

JBS said in a statement it will require its thousands of meatpacking plant workers in Greeley to continue masking up while on the clock.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre is increasing seating capacity for shows to 6,300 fans. The venue will resume its full capacity of 9,500 on June 21, but masks will still be required inside the visitor center, trading post and restrooms. Other venues are taking a similar tactic.

Major school districts in the region are asking teachers and students to stay masked in the classroom for the remainder of the school year.

Theresa Myers, communications chief for Greeley-Evans District 6, said the district’s mask policies would continue at least through summer school because many students still aren’t eligible for a vaccine.

“Younger kids are still getting sick and they’re exposing their classmates and our staff,” Myers said. “So we’re just erring on the side of caution and really just trying to do what we can to keep our students and staff healthy.”

Colorado first implemented a mask mandate in July 2020. The law, along with strict social distancing requirements, was meant to control the spread of COVID-19. Studies have shown the strategy worked.

But the policy sparked outrage and protests. Businesses struggled to keep up with the requirement, among many other changing rules.

A handful of local governments, such as Weld County, openly defied the state’s mask mandate, encouraging businesses to make their own choices about enforcement. Still, masks became a staple of public life across the state.

The loosened requirements come as Colorado’s total COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily declining for weeks. More than 2.8 million people have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, but the pace of vaccination has slowed.

Echoing the Centers for Disease Control, Gov. Polis and top state public health officials have stressed that unvaccinated residents should continue to mask up. Polis issued an extended public health order through June 1 that requires masks for unvaccinated residents in most public settings.

“If you are not vaccinated, please take this moment to have the urgency to get vaccinated,” Polis said in a press conference announcing the looser guidelines. “A lot of the protections that you’ve been relying on to keep you safe – those are all going away.”

Many businesses with looser mask policies aren’t checking for proof of vaccination. Instead, they’re relying on the honor system.

Courtney Samuel stopped requiring masks for vaccinated clients at his gym, Bodies by Perseverance, in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood this week. Staff are now asking unvaccinated customers to keep their masks on through verbal communication and new signage.

He hasn’t had any issues yet, Samuel said.

“We feel that, in our community, people are going to tell us the truth,” he said.

In Estes Park, Melissa Strong has removed the floor-to-ceiling dividers between the indoor tables of her restaurant, Bird & Jim. The space is back to full capacity and she’s posted signs about the state’s new, looser mask guidance.

She doesn’t plan on quizzing diners on their vaccination status either.

“I believe if we did so, we would put our employees in a very vulnerable and volatile position,” Strong said. “After a hard year, I’m not going to ask them to do that.”

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that King Soopers is dropping its mask requirements for vaccinated residents. The grocery chain says it will implement new CDC guidance on masks at stores beginning May 20.

Stacy Nick contributed reporting.

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