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The Jefferson County Public Health department's board voted 4-1 on Nov. 22 to pass a new health ordinance to require people ages 3 and older, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks when within public indoor spaces as a COVID-19 safety measure.
Boardmember Cheri Jahn was the one dissenting vote.
"This is (an) action that really should have been taken a while ago," Board of Health Chair Greg Deranleau said during the video meeting, referencing guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that strongly recommend mask wearing in high-transmission areas.
The mask order took effect Nov. 24.
Current statistics on COVID-19 in Jeffco have not been good. As of Monday, there were 104 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, with the rates of people hospitalized and of those testing positive for the virus on an upward trend.
The order is to remain in effect as long as Jeffco total cases and positive test result rates remain in the "High Transmission" category as classified by the CDC: A 7-day average total new case per 100,000 people of at or greater than 100; as well as a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 10% or greater.
As of Nov. 18, Jeffco's 7-day average rate of new cases per 100,000 was 370.95. The test positivity rate was also above 10%.
The health order says that if the county numbers get below those two benchmarks, and holds there for at least 21 days, that the restriction could lift.
The Jeffco public health order comes on the heels of a Nov. 14 order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mandating that anyone who attends certain public, indoor events with 500 or more people in Arapahoe, Jefferson, Adams, Denver and two other metro-Denver counties be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Adams, Arapahoe and Denver counties also passed similar mask mandates last week.
The Jeffco mask-wearing order reads, in part, that it is necessary "to control and reduce the spread of COVID-19 to prevent unnecessary deaths and serious illness, to maintain consistent health care capacity in Jefferson County, and to protect individuals who live, work, and play in (the county)."
Exceptions to wearing a mask can include:
Jeffco's public health order also allows for businesses to apply for Approved Fully Vaccinated Facility status. To achieve that status, business locations would need to require proof of full vaccination for all employees, staff, guests, customers, and all others entering the facility.
MORE: Jeffco's mask order FAQ
The members of the health board who cast their votes in favor of the new health measure acknowledged the dozens of people who signed up for public comment during the meeting, the vast majority of whom were strongly opposed to a mask mandate, even as those board members stressed its necessity.
"In all of this discussion ... there have been very few other solutions presented that can help slow this down," Boardmember Kimberley Krapek said.
Deranleau, the board chair, expressed some frustration, ending the meeting to note that he didn't care for the personal nature of some of the ruder critical comments left in the meeting chat box.
"It is clear that many of people that showed up today are vehemently opposed to us taking action. I struggle with that," Deranleau said. He argued that the board not acting would likely result in more people getting sick, with the associated human and economic costs.
"Our businesses will suffer more if we do nothing," he said.
The board discussed revisiting the public health order as needed in the following weeks.
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