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Pitkin County returns to mandatory indoor mask public health order starting Thursday

Pitkin County health officials are enacting a mandatory indoor mask public health order starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, it was announced Wednesday.

The order requires masks in all indoor public spaces for all individuals 2 years and older regardless of vaccination status.

“Masks are required during substantial and high transmission in all indoor public spaces, including but not limited to public transportation, private and public offices, retail stores, restaurants, bars, event centers, gyms, recreation centers, and manufacturing facilities,” according to a news release sent Wednesday by Pitkin County. “The order does not apply to private homes; however, Pitkin County Public Health recommends wearing a mask whenever around individuals from a different household, particularly when at least one individual is not vaccinated.”

Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County Public Health Director, said in the release that the mandate is to help the local resources and to try to avoid capacity and distancing restrictions.

“Only second to vaccination, adoption of an indoor mask order is an extremely effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and set a universal expectation for mask wearing throughout the community,” Sabella said. “By adopting an indoor mask order now, we can preserve our health care system resources, protect the health of our community, and have the best chance at preventing hugely impactful capacity and social distancing restrictions in the future.”

The county is going to set up an indoor exemption for businesses that have a mandatory vaccination policy. However, businesses cannot apply for that exemption until Oct. 11.

“As part of the mask order, businesses and facilities may receive an exception for masking if they choose to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for their employees and guests,” according to the news release. “This is a voluntary program that allows businesses to develop their own policies to encourage and require vaccinations while meeting their specific demographic, community and business needs.”

“All businesses must receive explicit approval as an Approved Fully Vaccinated Facility by Pitkin County Public Health. Applications for the Fully Vaccinated Facility Program will open on October 11.”

A news conference is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to go over more details of the public health order.

The county’s board of health met last week and gave Sabella the authority to enact the mask order.

Steamboat Springs won’t require vaccine passport for summer events

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview released Monday that the United States government will not be mandating so-called vaccine passports for travel or other business.

“I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept,” Fauci said to the Politico Dispatch podcast.

The White House has given the same message, with officials saying the role of the government is not to create a passport program or place some kind of hold on unvaccinated people, rather to ensure any passports that become available are equitable.

“We view this as something that the private sector is doing and will do,” said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for Medicare and Medicaid, on a press call last week.

As more Americans are vaccinated, the topic of requiring vaccines to return to some aspects of pre-pandemic life has surfaced, and there are efforts across the world to start a system to track vaccinations and prove vaccination status to others.

Officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have said they are considering the idea, the Denver Post reported Sunday. Event coordinators in Steamboat Springs have also talked about requiring vaccinations for events this summer as a mitigation strategy when local events return to near-normal frequency in the coming months.

A vaccine passport is essentially a way to prove to someone else that a person has been vaccinated and could be in either digital or paper format. Even if not required, Slavitt said they recognize the desire by some Americans to be able to prove vaccination status to others.

Israel has been using an app since February enabling people to prove their vaccination status when entering gyms, hotels, concerts and indoor dining. The United Kingdom and the European Union are both exploring similar systems.

New York state has its own passport system called the Excelsior Pass, which is funded by the state and free to anyone who was vaccinated in New York. It is not required; rather, it allows for more capacity at certain events and access to large venues.

In the U.S., the issue has become political, with fierce resistance among Republicans. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has made such passports illegal in his state. Congresswomen Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado’s 3rd District, which includes Routt County, said on Twitter last week that passports would be “unconstitutional.”

Steamboat Springs is expecting a summer of events at a frequency pretty close to a normal year, despite about 75% of them being canceled last summer, said Rachel Lundy, special events coordinator for the city. In the process of permitting these events, Lundy and City Manager Gary Suiter both said the city will not require any vaccination requirement for events.

“Vaccine passport? No, we are not entering into that area,” Suiter said. “That is not to say that some private event owners would not require that.”

If state officials decided to require vaccination for certain events, Suiter said the city would follow those guidelines. With the state’s dial framework expected to become guidance rather than a requirement in May, counties are expected to have much of the control over their own COVID-19 restrictions this summer.

The city does not directly approve any COVID-19 protocols for events but does require events to follow all public health orders and other restrictions in effect locally, Lundy said. Event organizers are required to submit mitigation protocol to county public health officials at least 15 days prior to their event.

Applications for event permits have started to roll in recently, Lundy said, and none of them have included any provisions requiring vaccinations yet. Still, some events like bicycle or running races have indicated they may be interested in requiring a vaccination to participate, Lundy said.

“It has come up in our conversations, absolutely,” said Coleman Cook, vice president of Steamboat Free Summer Concerts, about requiring a vaccination to attend a concert. “All of our considerations are fully about how we can make this happen this summer.”

Discussions are still early, Cook said, but he believes there is some merit to being able to prove vaccination to enter an event. For Cook and the concert series, putting on an event this summer is important, but not so important that they would force it to happen in an unsafe way.

A lot of the financial support for the concerts depends on having large groups of people in close contact, normally about 5,000 people. Cook said they believe a smaller event of about 2,000 people would likely still be financially viable for them, and they are discussing several potential measures to ensure a concert’s success later this summer.

“It is bigger than just a decision for 2021,” Cook said. “It is a decision for the livelihood of the series looking beyond just this year.”