EL PASO COUNTY — Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order on Friday extending the statewide mask mandate for at least another month. The mandate began around a month ago, and since then, numbers in El Paso County have slowly started trending in the right direction.
Even though we are still in what's considered a high-risk area, those with El Paso County Public Health said we are doing better than we were a few weeks ago. Currently, the county is around a 6% positivity rate, which is a decrease from where we were a month to two months ago. Public health said the goal is to get below 5%. "Percent positivity is of all the people who show up to get tested, how many of those people actually test positive... That number, that percent positivity, is also coming down. Over the last couple of weeks it's back down to about 6%... It's a really, really good indicator that we're doing things right in El Paso County right now," said Dr. Leon Kelly, the deputy medical director for El Paso County Public Health.
Dr. Kelly said the mask mandate has played a role in the gradual decrease we have seen. "When you get dramatic changes in mask compliance, when suddenly people start putting them on, you essentially, immediately, get improvement... But what's important to know, is it's not just putting on the mask. It's that when you have the mask on, it's a constant reminder of all the other things you need to do," said Dr. Kelly.
However, Dr. Kelly said there is still work to be done, with potentially their biggest challenge on the horizon: school. "While our numbers are going down, and that's encouraging, they're not where they need to be... We've seen what happened when we let off the accelerator a little bit, and we've seen those numbers climb relatively rapidly, and so we need to be, as we said at the beginning of this, we need to be diligent, we need to be persistent, we need to be disciplined," said Dr. Kelly.
News5 spoke with several people in Downtown Colorado Springs on Friday afternoon, and heard many opinions on the mask mandate extension, ranging from support, to opposition, and indifference. "Honestly, I think it's worth it. I have no issues with it whatsoever... I'd like to see El Paso County's numbers drop a little bit more," said Brady Daye, a Colorado Springs resident.
Another resident said he will wear a mask if he must to enter a business, but believes they are a joke. "This whole thing started with the CDC saying that masks are useless, and now everybody's trying to mandate it... It seems like it's only being put in place for show, nobody really cares about it. I think the majority of people that wear masks wear it just to keep the peace," said Kade Huesman.
Others said they are relieved the mandate was extended. "I hate how life is, but I feel like the longer we're not willing to accept it, the longer it's going to be this way... I know the numbers were going up right before they did the mask mandate, so to me it means that it's working. I have a junior in high school and he just really wants to have a normal senior year, and if this is a sacrifice that we have to make, I'm all for it," said Melissa Bannerot.
Dr. Kelly had words of encouragement for all residents of the county to remember during the extension. "By the time you see negative outcomes, you see the numbers going the wrong direction, it's really hard to get that thing turned around. And yet we did it, as a community, and we've proven now, two times in a row that when we commit to something, as a city and as a county, we can move this thing in the right direction," said Dr. Kelly.
News5 also reached out to the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, which said their positivity rate is at 4.9%. They want to keep it under 5%, and hope the community will continue practicing social distancing, good hygiene, and wearing face masks in public to help.