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Tri-County Health orders mask mandate; cities can opt out

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Posted at 3:55 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 17:55:53-04

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Health officials who oversee a large swath of suburban Denver decided Wednesday to impose a mask-wearing requirement to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but jurisdictions will be allowed to opt out of the order.

The Tri-County Health Department’s Board of Health voted 5-4 on the mask order, which will apply to Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties, the Aurora Sentinel reported.

“Everybody should be wearing a mask across the Tri-County area,” said Adams County representative Julie Mullica, an infectious disease expert who voted for the order.

Wednesday’s vote directs Dr. John Douglas, Tri-County Health’s executive director, to set out details of the order, including where masks are and are not required. But the ultimate decision will rest with elected officials.

Board of Health members sparred mostly over the optics of non-elected representatives imposing a sweeping and divisive rule on a diverse region.

Aurora, Colorado’s third largest city, declined to impose a mask mandate in May. But Mayor Mike Coffman has recently called for one.

Although it’s not yet clear how authorities will enforce the order, Coffman and Douglas agree police should not become involved. In neighboring Denver, violators face an up to $999 fine.

The board’s decision came during a concerning uptick in cases of the coronavirus in the three counties, which are home to 1.4 million people.

In the Tri-County Health jurisdiction, cases surpassed 10,000 in early July. The number of cases reported per day rose by nearly 30 percent in Arapahoe and Adams counties, and doubled in Douglas County, between the second and fourth weeks of June.

The rate of positive cases has increased from 2.7% the week of June 7 to 3.48% last week, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.