Eagle County residents urge commissioners to drop COVID-19 mask mandate
‘We have had enough’
Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron launched his COVID-19 update this week by noting the finish line is in sight for the county’s public health orders.
A group of county residents then made the argument the county should already be finished with its mask mandate.
“We need to stop all mandates,” Gypsum resident Jennifer French said. “After a year of playing along, we are done.”
Two weeks ago, local public health officials shared a target date of May 27 to rescind the county’s current health order and end the COVID-19 emergency declaration. During his Tuesday presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Barron noted that date was set after discussion with school officials and other community entities. The goal, Barron noted, was to keep precautions in place until the end of the school year and to give county residents a specific target so they move forward from pandemic restrictions.
“All of our county needs that consistency,” Barron said.
That means the county’s current health order will remain in place for 30 more days and that order requires masks when entering any place of business or public indoor environment. Barron said the latest data from the county’s public health department indicates that much of the county’s current disease spread is being fueled by incidents where indoor mask use is not happening or enforced.
Eagle County remains in the yellow, or “concerned,” stage of COVID-19 risk. There were 71 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the county over the past seven days.
End the order
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, it’s been months since members of the public personally participated in the open comment part of the commissioners’ agenda. But Tuesday brought out a number of residents who voiced their anti-mask sentiments. Resident Bobbijo Barela said she wishes she had spoken to the commissioners sooner.
“My silence has meant that I agree with these mandates and I do not,” Barela said.
Barela noted that initially masks were promoted as a strategy to keep severe disease controlled and prevent hospitals from becoming overrun. “Now our hospitals have room and we are still wearing masks,” she said.
She cited data that questions the effectiveness of masks in preventing COVID-19 and noted that the disease is most severe for older people. But the county continues to require mask wearing for school children, Barela said.
“As an educator, I can’t begin to tell you the disservice we have done to our children,” Barela said “We have taught our kids to set themselves on fire to keep others warm.”
Barela noted that other counties, states and nations are taking a different approach to mask mandates and encouraged Eagle County to do the same.
“If we are truly following science, we need to do something different,” she said. “It is time to move past this. It is time to start living again.”
“What are continued orders in Eagle County really about?” asked Gypsum resident Pamela Chapman. She said local residents, particularly children, have already suffered enough as a result of the county’s mask mandate, which she characterized as draconian.
“We have had enough,” Chapman said.
“It is time to promote living freely,” said EagleVail resident Krista Keiser. She argued that during the entire 15 months of the pandemic, only five county residents under the age of 29 have been hospitalized.
“The fear-mongering must stop,” Keiser said. “Unmasking us and shifting to smiles is a fantastic start.”
Kellie Ricca argued that while there is a level of comfort for the county to impose mandates that other jurisdictions have instituted, in the end people should have the right to choose whether or not they wear a mask.
“If people feel masks are effective, they should wear them. But it should be a choice, not a mandate,” Ricca said.
French seconded that sentiment. “Individuals should be allowed to make the choice to wear or not wear masks based on their personal decision, not governmental control,” she said.
While they thanked the speakers for attending the meeting and offering their comment, the commissioners did not respond directly to their assertions or to their requests.
The way out
Barron also voiced his desire to lift the mask mandate. But he argued it is still too soon to do that.
“The answer is not permanent face coverings. The answer is not permanent social distancing,” Barron said. “The answer is vaccines.”
Barron said the county’s goal is to get 60% of its resident population vaccinated by May 27. With that goal stated, Barron said it is important to continue mask-wearing protections moving toward that figure. As of this week, 69% of the county’s eligible population – 56% of its total population — has received at least one dose of vaccine. Additionally, 87% of the county’s age 50 and older population has been vaccinated.
“It’s really a testament to our community’s adoption of the vaccine,” Barron said.
Vaccination clinics are now open to all county residents age 18 and older. There are several site options including Vail Health, Freedom Park, Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High Schools and local pharmacies. There is even a vaccination clinic planned at Vail Brewing Company on May 30. Appointments can be scheduled at eaglecountycovid.org.