Dec 1, 2021 - COVID

Mask mandate draws complaints in Denver area as Omicron looms

 A sign advises members at the YMCA that face masks are now required to wear after a Denver public health order went into effect Nov. 24. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP
A sign advises members at the YMCA that face masks are now required to wear after a Denver public health order went into effect Nov. 24. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

The latest public health orders in the Denver metro area are generating complaints because residents are ignoring the mandate to wear masks indoors.

Driving the news: Denver reported at least 78 complaints through midday Tuesday, but has issued no citations, according to the city.

  • Tri-County Health has received at least 70 complaints in Arapahoe and Adams counties, CBS4 reports.

Why it matters: State public health experts reiterated Tuesday that face masks — along with vaccines — are a key precaution to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and avoid exceeding hospital capacity.

State of play: Colorado COVID-related hospitalizations have decreased to 1,466 after a spike north of 1,600 earlier in the month, and the availability of intensive care-unit beds has increased — a shift that state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy called "a good sign."

  • Yes, but: While the decline in hospitalizations and case rates could reflect less coronavirus transmission, it could also represent a data aberration after the holiday weekend.

Between the lines: The global spread of the Omicron variant — which has not been detected in Colorado yet — remains a concern.

  • In addition to monitoring individual COVID-19 tests for the new variant, officials are checking wastewater samples — which is how the Delta variant was first discovered in the state.

Zoom in: It's too early to know whether the indoor mask mandates added in five Denver metro counties last week are making a difference in case rates, especially with spotty compliance.

  • Business owners are required to post signs denying entry to those without masks, but some aren't enforcing the order, CBS4 found.
  • Larimer County saw more than 900 noncompliance complaints in the first month after requiring masks starting in October, 9News reported.

Our thought bubble: The other day, John heard a Denver Whole Foods manager tell the private security guard at the door to allow people to shop even if they didn't want to wear masks and raised a fuss.

  • On Sunday, Alayna heard an AT&T employee offer a maskless customer a face covering, but then say he didn't mind if she continued going without.

What they're saying: Denver public health officials take "compliance with the public health order seriously and we are following up on all complaints we receive," spokesperson Courtney Ronner said in a statement to Axios.

  • "Ultimately, our goal is to ensure compliance with the public health order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our region."

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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