Fort Collins considers requiring masks inside businesses to prevent coronavirus spread
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Fort Collins’ city manager and city council want to require people to wear masks or face coverings while inside businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.
City manager Darin Atteberry brought up the idea, which still needs to be fine-tuned and drafted into ordinance form, at a city council remote work session Tuesday night. Council members expressed unanimous support. City leaders agreed any requirement should reference face coverings, not just masks, so residents understand they can easily comply without needing to buy personal protective equipment meant for health care and front-line workers.
Council members also suggested researching options for providing face coverings on-site to people who arrive at a business without a mask because they don’t have access to a mask or mask-making materials.
Fort Collins Police Services would probably not be the “ultimate enforcer” of a mask mandate, Atteberry said. He added enforcement would likely be based on education and social pressure, but he plans to research face-covering requirements in other areas and gather more information about enforcement. Boulder, Aspen, Wheat Ridge and Glenwood Springs have all passed some form of a requirement for people to wear face coverings in public.
Atteberry unofficially proposed a mask mandate Tuesday after the city and council members were inundated with resident complaints about people not covering their faces in public. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis strongly recommends mask-wearing in public as the state transitions from its expired stay-at-home order to the “safer at home” phase, but mask-wearing isn’t required.
Larimer County is requiring customers and employees to wear face coverings inside businesses, and many businesses are requiring the same. But enforcement of the county’s business rules will be complaint-based, health department spokesperson Katie O’Donnell said,. Residents have reported seeing many people with their faces uncovered inside businesses, particularly grocery stores, despite the county requirement.
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“What we’re hearing is, there’s some misunderstandings, some ambiguity,” Atteberry said Tuesday. “We as the city have taken a very strong educational approach to this. We’ve posted signs in our parks and along some of our trail heads; we’re promoting like crazy the importance of this in our newsletters and social media. But candidly, I don’t think it’s enough.”
Council members backed the idea of requiring face coverings inside businesses, and they asked staff for more information about how the city can encourage — but probably not require — mask-wearing in public spaces like parks and trails.
County officials recommend covering your face in more crowded outdoor outdoors, like parking lots or trail heads, but they say it’s not necessary if you’re not around others.
Like the county requirements for mask-wearing, the city’s requirement will probably need room for exceptions, council members said. Banks are one example of an establishment where mask-wearing wouldn’t be required for customers.
Requiring face-covering inside businesses “seems like the right thing to do,” council member Susan Gutowsky said. She pointed out that mask-wearing is a measure meant to protect others more than oneself, because cloth face coverings can prevent people who have coronavirus from unwittingly transmitting it to others. Recent scientific findings show that both asymptomatic and symptomatic people infected with coronavirus can transmit it to others through respiratory droplets.
She said a city requirement could make it easier for business owners to “gently” ask customers not wearing masks to come back when they have a face covering.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an imposition if we’re simply asking people to wear them in commercial buildings,” Gutowsky said. “There’s so many people now who have adapted to it and are wearing masks. I think the others would do the same if we were to make a point of it.”
Mayor Wade Troxell also supported a face covering requirement for customers and workers inside commercial buildings. He said the requirement could give people more confidence to “venture out” in the community as businesses begin to reopen in limited capacity.
A face covering could be something as simple as a homemade mask or bandana, he added. He said the mask he wears while out in public is made from an old T-shirt.
“As much as I love to see smiling faces in Fort Collins,” he said, “it’ll have to be smiling eyes for the foreseeable future.”
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Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
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