PUEBLO — In late August, the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment issued a Public Health Order requiring all students older than two to wear masks while indoors at child care centers, youth camps, and public and private schools throughout the county. Those with Public Health said the order is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The new Public Health Order is effective as of August 30. The reasoning behind this decision is attributed to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Pueblo, as well as the highly contagious Delta variant, low numbers of people wearing masks indoors, and low vaccination rates in eligible students.
At a heated Pueblo County School District 70 school board meeting on Tuesday, dozens of parents shared their opinions on the new mask mandate during public comment. The first speaker was in support of the mandate, but was one of the only ones. "Masks are the best safety measure. Thank you again for putting the safety of my daughter, your staff, including me, and the safety of humankind first. You've made unpopular decisions with compassion, and put safety at the forefront. You are heroes," said the parent, who is also a teacher in the district.
The majority of parents who addressed the board were vehemently against the mask requirement. "We do not need to have people like you guys or the health department telling me how to parent my child. I do not co-parent with the school board or the health department. That is my job as a parent. Your job is to educate my child," said one parent.
Many also had questions about the mental health of students as it relates to masks. "How long is long enough? And at what point are we going to sacrifice the wellness of these kids mental health?" asked another parent.
The school board said they did not ask Public Health to impose the order, and that it does have the force of law.
There are exemptions to the mandate, including students under two years old, or those who cannot wear a mask because of medical reasons or a disability. The school board said they have already issued several exemptions.
According to Public Health, the order will be reviewed when there is a two-week downward trend of COVID-19 cases with "no more than 50 cases/100,000 in the previous seven days and a downward trend of average percent positivity with no more than 3% average positivity in the previous seven days."