Boulder County drops mask mandate for public indoor spaces, schools

Boulder County residents, visitors and students and teachers in district schools will soon no longer be required to wear a mask.

County health officials on Monday night voted unanimously to drop its mask mandates, becoming the last metro area county to do away with the face-covering requirement as COVID-19 rates continue to drop precipitously.

Masks will no longer be obligatory beginning Friday at 5 p.m. in public indoors spaces and in schools — including early childhood centers and for kids under 5.

Earlier this month, Denver, Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties dropped the mask mandate for businesses and indoor public spaces, and Denver officials announced last week they will let the mask mandate expire on Feb. 25 for schools and child care settings.

The moves come as COVID-19 cases continue to drop, following months of unprecedented spread driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant.

Boulder County health officials during Monday’s meeting cited the area’s high vaccination rate (70%), lessened strain on the health system in recent weeks, omicron’s less severe health impacts and the fact that surrounding counties have lifted masking mandates as reasons to move in this direction.

The seven-day positive rate was 10% in Boulder County, officials said, down from 13% last week. Meanwhile, hospitalizations decreased 30% last week, a trend mirrored throughout most of the state.

“We do believe we’re at an inflection point now,” said Dr. Lexi Nolen, Boulder County Public Health’s deputy director.

Health officials were torn on whether to keep the mandate in place for early childhood education facilities and those under 5, given that this age group is not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Ultimately, however, the public health board worried that it might sow confusion if the youngest children were forced to continue to wear masks while kids in other grades could eschew them.

With Monday’s vote, Boulder will shift from a crisis approach to regular infection-control measures, public health officials said. It’s a shift from risk avoidance and harm prevention to risk management and harm reduction.

Members of the public during Monday’s meeting expressed a strong desire to rescind the mask mandate, speaking vocally to what they described as the mental health toll on children during the pandemic.

State public health officials said last week that Colorado should get a relative break from the coronavirus for the next few months as the percentage of people with some level of immunity — either from vaccines or from getting sick — increases.

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