A majority of Durango businesses support a proposed ordinance that would require face coverings within city limits, according to a survey conducted by the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
Jack Llewellyn, director of the chamber, said the survey went out to the chamber’s entire membership. Of the 355 businesses that responded, he said 65% supported the city’s effort to require masks.
“I was surprised it is so high,” he said. “But I feel the reason is, businesses want to protect their employees. And if customers are required to wear a mask, then that helps protect them.”
Amber Blake, interim city manager, said the order is expected to be signed Thursday and take effect Friday. It would require face coverings in businesses, public transit and public places where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained.
Businesses contacted by The Durango Herald on Wednesday voiced support for the proposed ordinance.
Dave Woodruff, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Durango chapter and general manager of El Moro Spirits and Tavern, said most restaurant owners he’s talked to are in support of the measure.
Woodruff said restaurant owners want to keep their staff safe. But if a restaurant owner is the one to put the requirement in place, customers who refuse to wear a mask may take it out on employees, evidenced by incidents across the country. On Monday, a man shot and wounded a cook at a Waffle House in Aurora after the restaurant staff asked the man to wear a face covering.
“It just takes the onus off the restaurant having to be the enforcement piece,” Woodruff said. “It makes it easier for us to say, ‘This is the law. We didn’t make the law. We just have to abide by it.’”
Willa Vaughan, manager of Animas Trading Co., said since reopening earlier this month, the store has required customers who come inside the shop to wear masks, with varying success.
“There’s been a pretty big majority of people who refuse to wear a mask or give us a really hard time, saying, ‘We’re not going to shop here again,’” she said. “But we’re willing to lose that business if they’re not going to … be safe in public.”
Vaughan said the issue over masks is a daily conflict that has picked up more as people from outside the community start visiting Durango. She, too, said making it a city requirement will make it easier on the store and staff.
“We wear masks, so I think it’s fair our customers wear masks,” she said. “It’s a common respect.”
Zach Beavers, an employee at Duranglers Flies & Supplies, said the store also requires masks, and offers face coverings to customers coming in.
“The people who don’t want to wear it seem to just leave with no grief,” he said. “But most people are cooperative.”
Johnna Bronson, owner of Lively, a boutique shop, said she’s probably lost some business as a result of requiring face coverings, but she said the vast majority of customers appreciate the safety measure.
“We’re being friendly as possible about it,” Bronson said.
But not all Durango businesses support the effort. Trevor Bird, owner of Durango Harley-Davidson, said he requires his employees to wear face coverings, but it’s not the government’s place to tell customers to wear a mask.
“It’s full-on government overreach and absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “Nothing is more important to me than the health and safety of my employees, but it’s a choice we need to make as individuals.”
Despite staunch opposition to the mask requirement, come Friday, Bird said he would follow suit.
“I don’t have to agree with our government, but I have to respect the rules they put in place,” he said.
Local health officials say that previous public health orders that asked people to stay at home and closed businesses deemed nonessential were effective in flattening the curve of the coronavirus.
But now that those regulations are being relaxed, with more businesses opening and tourism picking up, officials have voiced concern cases could increase. As a result, face coverings are seen as an effective way to help slow the spread as the economy reopens.
“(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,” Mayor Dean Brookie said Tuesday night. “Therefore, we are on the front line.”
Durango city councilors were unanimous in their support of the ordinance.
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said Tuesday research indicates that if 90% of the population wore masks and social distanced, transmission rates could decrease by 80%.
“We are not seeing enough compliance to feel like we’ve really nailed this,” she said. “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.”
But requiring face coverings has become a hot-button subject. While the state has issued only an advisory to wear masks, about 10 other towns and counties in Colorado made it a requirement.
Mitzi Rapkin, a spokeswoman for Aspen, said the effort has been relatively successful.
Aspen officials created an educational campaign that gave informational posters for businesses to hang up and placed signs around town. And, more than 1,000 face coverings were provided to individuals, and hundreds more to businesses.
“Education is the most powerful approach,” Rapkin said. “It’s always a work in progress when a law is passed in an emergency, but I think the community and the city really rallied to support it.”
Durango Police Cmdr. Ray Shupe said the face-covering requirement would be treated just like previous public health orders: by trying to educate people and obtain voluntary compliance.
“Enforcement is always the last resort,” he said.
To date, Durango police have not written any citations for violations to public health orders. And officers haven’t seen the type of flare-ups over the regulations that other places in Colorado and the country have experienced.
“We’re not trying to be heavy-handed or enforcement minded,” he said. “We’re just trying to educate and be proactive. And it’s working for us. Our community is great that way.”
Durango’s Blake said once the order is finalized, an educational campaign will be rolled out, with signs around town and information distributed to businesses. The timing is especially important as more tourists enter the community.
“You wear a mask to protect the people you’re surrounded by,” Blake said “They wear a mask to protect you.”