San Miguel County Public Health has extended the county-wide public health policy requiring masks in public indoor places. The requirement was renewed before expiration Tuesday  at 11:59 p.m. and is set to expire on Monday, Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m., with an option for early termination if metrics improve. The requirement will apply to business employees and members of the public who visit public indoor places and for all individuals 2 years of age and older, regardless of vaccination status.

“I know this is disappointing. I know we are tired,” county public health director Grace Franklin said in a news release. “Regional and statewide hospital capacity remains significantly strained and the role of local communities remains critical. What we have done here works. Our vaccination rate paired with mask wearing is protecting our population from hospitalization. If we all continue to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves through vaccines, boosters and mask wearing, we will continue to keep our community safe, which ultimately protects the state.”

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, several other counties across the state, including Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties, implemented new mask requirements, while Denver County implemented a “mask or vax” policy.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), more than 80 percent of hospitalized COVID patients have not been vaccinated. Given this relationship, the CDPHE continues to encourage vaccination and increased protective measures to help slow the spread and change the trajectory of the pandemic across Colorado.

With more than 90 percent of both ICU and acute care beds in use, the same beds used for patients suffering from a heart attack, stroke or trauma, hospital capacity throughout the state has been significantly strained for the past two months. This past weekend, the Department of Defense medical response team was deployed on the Front Range to aid inundated hospitals.

“The concern surrounding overwhelmed hospitals is real,” Franklin said. “We have seen the local impact of patients having delayed care or being transferred out of state for treatment because our regional and Front Range hospitals were full. By taking precautionary measures, we keep ourselves out of the hospitals, in turn protecting all those in need of emergency services.”

“Public indoor places” continues to be defined broadly to include any enclosed indoor area, which is publicly or privately owned, to which the public has access by right or invitation. It includes enclosed indoor space serving as a place of employment, indoor stores, businesses, schools, common areas, offices, lobbies and elevators. Consequently, employers should continue implementation of this requirement amongst employees, contractors, customers and anyone else within their indoor space.

The federal government continues to require masks on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States, and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. This federal mandate includes the gondola servicing Telluride and Mountain Village, as well as all public buses throughout the county.

Businesses and entities may impose more strict requirements, but not less restrictive.

Vaccine clinics have resumed weekly for the month of December, to register, visit bit.ly/smcvaccine. For business resources to help inform the public such as signage and social media assets, visit the public use folder or the business resources tab on the county COVID webpage at sanmiguelcountyco.gov/coronavirus.