Durango city councilors directed city staff Tuesday to finalize and issue an ordinance making face coverings mandatory within city limits in response to the coronavirus.
City staff expects to be able to announce the order by Thursday, although details around providing masks, cost and messaging need to be finalized. Durango would be the first municipality in La Plata or Archuleta counties to enact a mandatory order.
Face coverings would be required in businesses, public transit, and indoor and outdoor public places where people can not maintain 6 feet of social distancing. It does not include outdoor recreating. Enforcement of the order would focus on education first.
The decision came as voluntary mask compliance in Durango appears to remain low, while more people from other states and cities seem to be visiting the city. The city is working out details such as how to provide free masks to the public without placing an undue financial burden on businesses.
“We are not seeing enough compliance to feel like we’ve really nailed this,” said Liane Jollon, San Juan Basin Public Health executive director, during the City Council meeting Tuesday. “We would be in a safer community with less transmission of disease if we were able to really get to that last piece of resistance.”
About 10 other municipalities in Colorado have issued mandatory mask orders. Because the orders started within the last month, it is too early to see how effective they have been, Jollon said.
SJBPH issued a mask advisory in April to encourage voluntary compliance through education, but compliance remains low.
Research indicates that if 90% of the population wears face coverings and practices social distancing, viral transmission could decrease by up to 80%, Jollon said.
La Plata County has 72 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, but modeling suggests that as the region reopens, positive cases could reach 300 by mid-July, said Mayor Dean Brookie.
“(A mandatory order) might not be appropriate in other parts of our entire county, but Durango is the epicenter of commerce, and we are hosting this influx of people as we reopen our community. Therefore, we are on the front line,” Brookie said. “It’s pretty compelling to me.”
Other councilors and members of the public also expressed concern about people coming to Durango from areas with different restrictions, with an influx expected during Memorial Day weekend. The council wanted to send a message that Durango wants face-covering compliance because it cares about public safety, but it needs visitors to care as well.
The Durango Chamber of Commerce began conducting a poll Tuesday to determine how strongly businesses want to see a mandatory order. Under Colorado’s Safer-at-Home public health order, businesses can urge customers to wear masks upon entry. Councilors Barbara Noseworthy and Chris Bettin said business owners seem to want support from the city to say masks are not requested, but required.
“Businesses have called me and said, ‘Please help us. We want to be able to have some teeth,’” Noseworthy said. “We should do everything in our power to make certain that we’re helping the businesses and people feel safe to get out on the streets.”