Denver, other metro area counties extend mask mandates as omicron spreads in Colorado

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Posted at 10:35 AM, Dec 28, 2021

DENVER – Residents in Denver and five other metro area counties will need to continue wearing masks in indoor public settings as the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the state, officials with the Metro Denver Partnership for Health said Tuesday morning.

Denver’s “vax or mask" mandate , which was set to expire on Monday, will be extended through at least Feb. 3, 2022. The public health order requires face coverings in Denver for everyone age 2 and older.

The extension for local businesses and venues that want to require vaccine passports in lieu of masks to allow entry to their premises will also be extended, city officials said in a news release.

“In November, Denver and much of the metro area took the necessary steps to curb the rising spread of COVID-19 and reduce the dangerous pressure on our hospital systems. Our efforts were not in vain," Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in prepared remarks. "As the Omicron variant continues to spread during this holiday season, and hospital capacity remains strained, we simply cannot afford to let up now."

Denver saw its one-week average positivity rate drop to below 5% when Hancock reinstated the mask mandate on Nov. 24, city officials said, but it has quickly started to rise in the last two weeks with cases more than doubling in just the last week alone to 556 per 100,000 people for the week ending Dec. 24.

Hospitalizations are also expected to continue to increase as community transmission of the omicron variant becomes prevalent, officials said.

one-week incidence rate in denver county as of dec 24 2021.png
The weekly incidence rate of COVID-19 in Denver County has more than double in just the past week as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread across Colorado.

“We must continue to stay the course on science-based control measures like face coverings to ensure hospital beds are available for anyone in need,” said Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment in a statement.

Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, and Jefferson counties are also extending their mask mandates, though their approach to when those mandates could be rescinded differs by county. Boulder and Jefferson counties, for example, will let case counts instead of calendar dates decide when masks will no longer be needed in indoor public settings.

“Last month’s COVID-19 surge was reduced because people in our communities wore masks and got vaccinated, including booster doses. Continuing these strategies will save lives as we experience the rapid growth of the omicron variant as well as increasing influenza cases. We cannot become complacent,” said Dawn Comstock, PhD, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.

After a steady decline since early December, Colorado’s COVID-19 case rates have again been increasing over the past week, and the test positivity rate has jumped to nearly 10%, the officials said in a news release. As of Sunday, the state’s positivity rate was 12.58%, according to data from the state’s website.

“Omicron accounted for one in 10 COVID-19 cases in Colorado the week of December 12, and the highly transmissible variant has been detected in all of the state’s wastewater testing sites, suggesting widespread community transmission. Hospital capacity remains very tight and surges in omicron are likely to further aggravate this situation,” said Comstock.

Federal, state and local public health officials continue to urge the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get a booster if you're now eligible to do so, as a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine offered the highest level of protection both against infection and severe disease.

"There is still much to learn about the omicron variant,” said Robert Belknap, M.D, interim director of Public Health Institute at Denver Health. “Early reports have described a lower risk of hospitalization, especially for those who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster. Now is the time to get vaccinated or a booster dose. Other safety measures such as wearing masks in public indoor spaces, getting tested for COVID if symptomatic or after an exposure, staying home when ill, and avoiding large indoor gatherings will help prevent losing ground to the omicron variant.”