The city of Durango will extend its mandatory face-covering order indefinitely in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Durango City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the order, which had been scheduled to end Friday. Face coverings have been hotly debated locally and nationally. Councilors made the decision after considering public input, business needs, tourism concerns and the most recent research available about the benefits, or lack thereof, of wearing face masks.
“We want our residents to get out and feel safe in our downtown and in our restaurants and in our stores,” Councilor Melissa Youssef said at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting. “To stop now would be premature. I think it’s working.”
About 380 people weighed in on the issue, either through email, online public comments or the meeting’s public comment period. The majority, 303 digital and public comment responses, were in favor of extending the mandatory mask order.
The Durango Chamber of Commerce board unanimously voted to support extending the order, and Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, also supported continuing current measures, according to an email he sent to city staff.
The chamber cited several reasons for its support, including: Masks help protect vulnerable populations; businesses can cite the city order in requiring customers to wear masks; and health officials advise using masks as more people begin to congregate in groups.
The chamber said most customers are accommodating the small inconvenience. According to anecdotal feedback, the BID said some customers are trying to come into businesses without masks.
“It will allow us to continue opening our businesses, to continue getting people back to being employed. That’s incredibly important,” said Councilor Kim Baxter.
City councilors cited safety concerns, prioritizing tourism and the recreation-based economy, scientific research and information from health experts among their reasons for supporting the extension.
Mercy Regional Medical Center currently has intensive care-unit and ventilator capacity to manage COVID-19-related health care needs, said Mike Murphy, CEO of the hospital.
“The current interventions have been effective in reducing our rate of growth,” he said, referring to local COVID-19 cases.
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said new research continues to support wearing face masks and that the masks might also be necessary in response to wildfire season.
“It’s going to continue to take all of us working together to keep our curve flat,” Jollon said.