Mar 22, 2021 - News
Colorado prepares to lift its COVID mask mandate
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Editor's note: This story was based on a draft plan for easing Colorado's COVID restrictions. The official order was announced on March 24. You can see its full details here.

Colorado will lift its statewide mask mandate and ease coronavirus protocols even as experts say it's not yet safe to do so.

Driving the news: Gov. Jared Polis' administration released a draft plan that takes a two-pronged approach to ease restrictions at the lower levels of the state's dial system and make it easier for counties to reach them.

  • It takes effect Wednesday, a year after Polis issued a statewide lockdown, and ultimately punts a mask requirement decision to local governments and businesses.

How it works: Under the proposed changes, face coverings would not be required in counties at Level Green except for ages 11-18 in school.

  • The state would make it easier to reach this lowest level by allowing a rate of 35 cases per 100,000 instead of the current 15 cases per 100,000.
  • In addition, the state is easing capacity limits at other levels to reopen bars and allow more indoor dining.
  • Most counties are at the higher levels. Denver is at Level Yellow.

The state of play: The move comes two weeks after President Biden called removing public health orders like mask mandates "a big mistake" and "Neanderthal thinking."

The other side: Polis administration officials say it's warranted because more people are getting vaccinated.

  • "It’s all about a balance ... to slow the disease while attempting to limit the ramifications of closing down parts of the state and the impacts that come with that," said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the director of the state's public health department.

Reality check: Only 15% of Colorado is fully immunized, and experts say the state is unlikely to reach herd immunity until the end of the year.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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