Weld County commissioners refuse to enforce statewide mask mandate

This story has been updated with comment from Jared Polis’ office.

WELD COUNTY — The Weld County Board of Commissioners has directed the local health department to not enforce a statewide mask order that went into effect early Friday morning to help control the rising spread of COVID-19 across Colorado.

In a statement Friday afternoon, the commissioners argued that while Gov. Jared Polis has the authority to enact executive orders, he doesn’t have the specific power to order mask-wearing in public.

“Colorado Revised Statutes Sections 25-33.5-704 and 24-33.5-704.5 both mention the governor’s authority to enact executive orders but neither grants him the authority to enact a mask order within the state,” the statement reads.

County officials instead are urging residents to take individual responsibility and to take “common-sense” approaches to controlling COVID spread, including washing hands often, disinfecting surfaces, maintaining social distance, staying home when sick and covering their coughs. Wearing a mask was not included in that list.

Polis on Thursday issued the mask-wearing order requiring all state residents over the age of 10 to wear a mask when in an indoor public space, with various exceptions for exercising alone, eating at a restaurant and those “who cannot tolerate” wearing a mask. The latter exemption is meant for people who have respiratory problems and would be inhibited if wearing a mask.

Under the order, businesses can treat people who aren’t masked as if they didn’t have shoes or shirts on, allowing them to ask the customer to leave for violating the health code and potentially calling the police for trespassing.

The Centers for Disease Control and public health experts broadly agree that wearing cloth masks when around people outside of their household can prevent wider community spread. Earlier this month, economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that a nationwide mask mandate would prevent a 5% drop in national GDP by reducing the likelihood of economically painful stay-at-home orders.

Weld is following El Paso County, which said Friday its sheriff will not cite non-mask wearers.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Polis’ office said the governor agrees with the commissioners that residents need to take personal responsibility to avoid the spread of COVID-19, but that responsibility includes wearing a mask.

“(Polis’) executive order requiring mask wearing in buildings sets a scientifically-based, state-wide standard that will protect all Coloradans, and is legally in force across the entire state,” he said.

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