Masks

San Miguel County released new signage encouraging people to don masks when inside a public space such as businesses and public transportation. Telluride Town Council will be considering an emergency ordinance May 12 that may include penalties for non-compliance. (Courtesy image)

Of all the COVID-19-related talk, it is arguably the wearing of facemasks — or not — that seems most likely to incite tempers, agitating both proponents and those who doubt their efficacy. At Tuesday’s special Telluride Town Council meeting, how the town approaches mask-wearing is about to become law, though what that looks like will not be determined until the Tuesday, May 12, meeting when town attorney Kevin Geiger presents council with options for an emergency ordinance, which may include penalties for non-compliance. 

When council passes its preferred version next week, Telluride will join other Colorado municipalities that have passed similar laws. Aspen’s new ordinance was offered as an example by Greg Craig, a Telluride resident who served on the San Miguel County Public Health and Emergency Preparedness Response Task Force in the early 2000s.

In his letter to council, Craig said that an ordinance would help reduce transmission rates of the virus, particularly as visitors begin returning, and also help ensure the success of Colorado’s latest safer-at-home policy, which eases the restrictions on some forms of business, while recommending that home is still the best place to ride out the pandemic.

Craig pointed to Clark’s Market, which has signage posted encouraging customers to don masks while shopping, but noted, “it is routinely ignored.”

Council member Tom Watkinson suggested that merchants post signs instructing “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service” as a way to protect their employees and shoppers.

Others on council also supported mask-wearing in indoor spaces and outdoors if the six-foot distancing recommendations could not be met.

“I’m in favor of creating an ordinance that masks be worn in indoor public places,” said council member Adrienne Christy. “Our job is to protect our older population. I’d prefer that when I walk into Clark’s to see everyone wearing masks, so we all feel safe and comfortable.”

Council member Todd Brown agreed with his colleagues that masks in indoor public spaces should be required, but stopped short of wanting to see penalties for non-compliance.

“It’s a community responsibility,” Brown said, “but I’m not willing to take on enforcement.”

Council member Lars Carlson also wondered how enforcement would take place and asked council to consider an end date that would dovetail with county public health orders for any legislation passed during next week’s meeting.

“I do it as a courtesy to others,” he said of his own mask use, “but I don’t know how to enforce this.”

The Aspen ordinance includes a $50 fine for the first offense, $250 for the second offence and a mandatory court appearance for subsequent offences, “including up to a $2,650 fine and one-year imprisonment or both per day for each violation.”

Cities and towns can make state and county public health orders more restrictive, but cannot make them more lenient. San Miguel County officials recently published a reminder of the importance of donning facemasks when in an indoor, public space, especially as the virus can be spread by asymptomatic carriers.

“Wearing a facemask protects both you and others. By covering your mouth and nose, you prevent the spread of droplets that carry COVID,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, county medical officer. 

County residents love to recreate outdoors, especially as the weather has warmed and stay-at-home orders have entered the third month. But as long as six-foot distancing remains adhered to, “It is not necessary to keep facemasks on when engaging in outdoor activities,” the county statement reads. 

“If you’re going for a walk or a run and have enough space between others, you do not need to keep your mask on,” public health director Grace Franklin said. “But if you’re hiking a single-track and passing people with minimal clearance, wear your mask.”

As part of the current public health orders, retail employers must provide masks to employees and businesses should encourage customers to use facial coverings when on the premises, among other recommendations. Any ordinance Telluride officials enact will likely be stricter. 

The county further outlines what makes a suitable mask. Among guidelines are that they be clean and in good repair, fit snugly, include multiple layers of fabric and should be cleaned frequently. Cutting breathing holes defeats the purpose of wearing a mask. Those under two years of age should not wear a mask

“Please, wear your facemask not only to protect yourself, but for the sake of your loved ones, your neighbors and your community.” Franklin said.

At the May 12 regular Telluride Town Council meeting, the public hearing on town’s facemask emergency ordinance is scheduled for 1:50 p.m. Council is holding weekly meetings each Tuesday via Zoom. Meeting information can be found at telluride-co.gov.

There will be more council coverage in the Sunday edition of the Daily Planet.

For the latest on COVID-19, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.