Gov. Jared Polis announced a statewide mask mandate this week that took effect early Friday. The order requires people in Colorado who are older than 10 to wear a mask covering their nose and mouth when they are in any public indoor space.
The mandate is set to end in 30 days, Aug. 15, but the governor has the power to extend it.
The decision from the Colorado governor was a surprising reversal from his recent stance, in which he said a mask mandate would be impossible to enforce.
“We can’t have a police officer in every store,” Polis said at a news conference Tuesday. But Polis cited recent data Thursday showing case numbers are climbing and evidence that a mandate increases mask wearing by 15% as the reason for his change in position on issuing an order.
Several business owners also pushed for a statewide mandate to achieve greater compliance from outsiders. Previously, Polis said some shop and restaurant owners did not feel they had the authority to kick out people for refusing to wear masks.
The new executive order requires businesses to refuse service to customers who are not wearing masks and to post signs that instruct customers to wear a mask before entering businesses.
As of Friday, there were 155 cases of COVID-19 in La Plata County and 89 in Montezuma County. A total of three people have died with COVID-19 in La Plata and Montezuma counties. In Montezuma County, two died because of the virus.
The new mask-wearing law raises several questions, including what constitutes an indoor public space and whether staying 6 feet apart means people can remove their masks in the office.
The Durango Herald followed up with the governor’s office and San Juan Basin Public Health to answer readers’ questions about the mask order, including whether it is constitutional:
What is a public indoor space?According to Polis’ mandate, public indoor spaces include all enclosed areas that are not a place of residence and open to the public, such as:
Places of employment.Places that provide services.All offices, lobbies and elevators.Indoor businesses and common areas.Restaurants (when you are not seated at your table).Transportation, such as buses and trains.Places of worship. Malls and retail stores. Libraries, museums, theaters and casinos.Gyms, including areas around indoor pools, but not in the pool.Private country clubs and social clubs.Even if people maintain a 6-foot distance from other people in public indoor spaces, they are still expected to wear a mask, according to the mandate.
Hotel and motel rooms are not considered public indoor spaces.
When do I not have to wear a mask?People are not required to wear a mask in a public indoor space if they are:
Hearing impaired or otherwise disabled, or if they are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or disabled and being able to see the mouth is essential to communication.Sitting at a restaurant.Exercising alone or with people you work with.Receiving a service where the temporary removal of the face mask is essential.Officiating a religious service.Giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.Do I have to wear a mask outside?The executive order does not make it a requirement to wear a mask outdoors, unless people are waiting for public transportation, such as a bus or a train. However, San Juan Basin Public Health encourages people to wear masks outdoors when they can’t stand 6 feet apart.
What happens if I refuse to wear a mask?People who refuse to wear a mask in places that are required may be in violation of Colorado law and could be charged with trespassing. The penalties could include a fine or jail.
Businesses that do not kick out people who are not wearing masks, or require their employees to wear masks, could have their license revoked.
Can cities and counties opt out of the statewide mask order?Counties that are certified for Protect Our Neighbors may choose to be exempted from the statewide mask order, according to the governor’s office.
As of Friday, none of Colorado’s 64 counties were certified for Protect Our Neighbors, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. To qualify, a county must submit a containment and mitigation plan for what it would do if cases started to rise again.
Counties and towns can also adopt stricter mask guidelines than what is set forward in the new executive order.
Is the mask order a law?Yes, public health orders have the force of law. People who do not comply with the new order can be charged with trespassing.
Is the statewide mask mandate constitutional?Denver lawyer Anthony Viorst, who specializes in a range of legal issues, said the governor is “allowed to place reasonable restrictions on its citizens for the health and safety of the community.”
This is a basic principle under the Constitution, he said. The likelihood of enforcement is also very small, Viorst said, because law enforcement will be stretched too thin.
Under Colorado state law, Polis has the executive authority to do what he thinks is necessary to deal with the pandemic, said Robert Peck, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington, D.C.
“People talk in general terms about their personal and civil liberties,” Peck said, but they often can’t name which constitutional right they are talking about. The legality question is less about personal rights and more about power rights, Peck said.
It is legal to implement trespassing penalties for not wearing a mask, he said. If someone is drunk and dangerous to others in a store, it is legal to kick them out, he said. In the case of COVID-19, not wearing a mask is dangerous because it could cause the spread of the virus to others.
Why do children 10 years and younger not have to wear a mask?According to information from the CDPHE, data shows children in this age group are less likely to spread COVID-19 than older children and adults. They also won’t wear a mask correctly.
The governor’s office stressed that children ages 2 and younger should not wear face coverings.
Is wearing a mask bad for your health?According to the Mayo Clinic Health System in Arizona, the top-rated hospital in U.S. News & World Report, there is no health risk to wearing a face mask for an extended period of time for healthy adults. Carbon dioxide will diffuse through the mask as people breathe.