DENVER — The Tri-County Health Department voted Tuesday to pass a mask mandate for 2- to 11-year-olds in schools and child care facilities, but counties are allowed to opt out of the mandate.
The mandate applies to Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties. The public health order requires children ages 2-11 to wear a face covering in all indoor school and child care settings, as well as individuals working and interacting with those children.
The board of health voted 6 to 2 in favor of passing the measure, which goes into effect Aug. 23.
“We are in a race to stop the spread of the Delta variant and keep even more contagious variants from emerging. Requiring masks in schools is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms. This will keep our kids and their families safer and reduce disruptions to in-person learning that so heavily impacted educational success and mental health during the last school year and are already occurring in other states,” said Dr. Kaia Gallagher, board president.
If a county chooses to opt out of the mandate, individual schools, school districts and child care facilities can still choose to follow the public health order.
The board of health first met Monday afternoon to hear 90 minutes of impassioned public comment from parents. The board then spent more than two hours in a closed executive session before voting to table to vote until Tuesday.
Following the vote Tuesday, the Douglas County School District announced a mask requirement for students in Pre-K through 6th grade beginning Aug. 23. The district strongly recommends students in grades 7-12 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Staff, contractors and staff will also be required to wear masks.
The district said the change aligns with their policy, which states "management of common communicable diseases will be in accordance with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or Tri-County Health Department guidelines.”
"We realize this adjustment to our COVID protocols may spark a range of emotions in our community from relief to anxiety to anger. However, as previously communicated, DCSD’s COVID protocols will align with local and state health orders. The safety of each of our students and staff is a top priority, and the goal is to maintain in-person learning. Health officials believe this mask requirement will help us keep schools open and students in classrooms," the superintendent of DougCo Schools, Corey Wise, said in a letter to families Tuesday.
The Littleton Public Schools superintendent, Brian Ewert, also announced Tuesday night that the district will comply with the public health order. The district is reviewing the order and will release more information as soon as possible.
The Douglas County commissioners have a special business meeting on Aug. 19 at 10:30 a.m. in Castle Rock to discuss the public health order. The commissioners previously sent a letter to the Tri-County Health Department stating it was aware of their ability to opt out, but said they take "the position of supporting Tri-County's restraint to date from issuing orders in the absence of credible information from the scientific community, specifically regarding young people and the delta variant."
The Douglas County commissioners have chosen to opt out of public health orders in the past, voting unanimously in April to pass a resolution to opt out of further Tri-County public health orders.
"I'm not going to be dissuaded by sensational media,” commissioner George Teal previously told Denver7. “Until we receive peer-reviewed research that indicates delta is severe for young people, I’m not interested in creating additional issues or mandates for our citizens."
Douglas County represented the largest school district in the state that had not implemented a mask mandate up until the change Tuesday.
Adams and Arapahoe counties did not opt out of previous Tri-County public health orders. Several schools in the counties have chosen to require masks in some capacity.