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Breaking news: This morning, Nov. 23, Denver County has joined three other Front Range counties in approving a vax or mask mandate in indoor public spaces within the county of Denver, to take effect Wed. Nov. 24.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in Colorado, at least three Colorado counties passed facemask mandates last night. The Boards of County Health for Adams, Arapahoe, and Jefferson counties all approved facemask mandates for indoor public spaces beginning Wednesday, Nov. 24 and applies to anyone age three or older. Mask-wearing locations include retail stores, restaurants, and gyms — though businesses can seek exemptions if they require their employees and customers to be vaccinated.

The moves by the two public health departments covering the three counties are attempts to slow the current surge of cases that threatens to overwhelm Front Range hospitals. Officials in Denver County continued to debate whether or not to place a mandate on that county as well, with a decision due this week.

© Laura Barton. Image courtesy of Stay Safe! Salida.

Here in Chaffee County, the county blew past 2,000 COVID cases last week, and as of Monday, Nov. 22, had confirmed 2,214 in-county cases, with 26 confirmed in-county deaths from COVID. This month the county has already had 349 COVID cases — the highest monthly number ever — and November is nowhere near over.

Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center has three COVID-19 cases, and the hospital is at 72 percent capacity.

Just last week Chaffee county Coroner Jeff Graf noted, “We’ve had eight deaths from COVID since Oct. 1 — seven of them unvaccinated …many I know personally … My staff is getting tired of seeing these preventable deaths.”

As of late Friday, only a dozen Colorado counties, including Chaffee County, have any kind of public health orders in force related to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the state hit its highest numbers of COVID cases since Dec. 2020, and has reached the highest levels of hospitalizations for COVID since the start of the pandemic. More than 70 percent of all cases are among unvaccinated Coloradans.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis has steadfastly resisted suggestions by those who have inquired as to placing some statewide public health orders, including an indoor facemask mandate, although the state strongly encourages mask-wearing. He points out that 70.6 percent of Coloradans have had at least one shot, and 62.7 percent are fully-vaccinated. The current surge is not happening evenly across all counties. Polis has repeatedly said in multiple press conferences that “The way out of the pandemic is the vaccines,”  and he has focused on making vaccines available, versus mandates on businesses or masking.

But at this point, with cases surging, some way needs to be found to slow down the case rates to preserve Colorado’s hospital bed capacity.  With Thanksgiving gatherings looming, the trend is anything but good.

There is a resistant subset of Coloradans who say that getting vaccinated is the furthest thing from their minds. In fact, a poll by a regional Department of Colorado Public Health across 28 Colorado western counties revealed that nearly two-thirds of Coloradans surveyed said they would definitely not get the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly half of that group said they would only be vaccinated if required for work or for travel and leisure activities.

No one has apparently asked them if they became sick with COVID if they would forgo filling a hospital bed that might be needed by a person who took responsible, protective steps to be vaccinated.