Officials consider outdoor masks

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Ridgway, Ouray to recommend zones to county

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Municipal leaders in Ouray and Ridgway are proposing requiring masks in outdoor areas where there are high concentrations of pedestrian traffic, hoping to prevent a surge in coronavirus cases as tourists continue to flood Ouray County.

The Ouray City Council on Monday voted 3-2 to recommend to the Ouray County Joint Policy Group that a mandatory mask zone be instituted on Main Street between Fourth and Ninth avenues. Mayor Greg Nelson and Councilor Glenn Boyd cast the dissenting votes.

The Ridgway Town Council is weighing a proposal to require people to wear masks outside in several areas of town, primarily in the commercial core. It would mandate masks be worn on Clinton Street between Lena and Laura streets, on Sher man Street between Laura Street and Railroad Avenue, on Cora Street from Clinton Street to a half-block south of Sherman Street, and on Lena Street from Clinton Street to Hyde Street. It would also require masks be worn during the weekly farmers’ market on Friday in Hartwell Park, something already encouraged by festival organizers.

Town Manager Preston Neill, who developed the plan with input from Mayor John Clark and Councilor Beth Lakin, asked town councilors to offer feedback by the end of the day Wednesday. It’s unknown how much, if any, of the proposal will ultimately be forwarded to the county.

Members of the Joint Policy Group, which consists of elected officials from Ouray, Ridgway and the county, will discuss the recommendations tonight (July 23) in a work session that begins at 6. It’s expected that any requirement for masks to be worn in outdoor areas would be tacked onto the county’s current mandatory mask order at the discretion of Public Health Director Tanner Kingery, with the blessing of county commissioners.

That order, which went into effect on July 3 and is in place until at least Aug. 1, requires people to wear face coverings inside most businesses and all local government buildings, as well as when they’re waiting in line to enter a business.

The idea of requiring face coverings outdoors where there are larger concentrations of people — making social distancing difficult — was raised by Lakin during the Joint Policy Group’s July 16 work session after Boyd asked whether leaders were doing everything they should be doing to try to limit the spread of the virus. He pointed out at that time that one new positive case of COVID-19 had been reported in Ouray County in the last week — a woman in her 70S — while 15 and 17 new cases had been reported during the same period in Montrose and San Miguel counties, respectively. He also noted that Ridgway recently temporarily closed town hall due to concerns about exposure, and that the Center for Mental Health temporarily closed its crisis center in Montrose for the same reason.

Ouray Mayor Pro Tem John Wood noted during the July 16 work session that people from states like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, where infection rates are spiking, are continuing to visit Ouray in largenumbers.

“Right now there’s a huge exposure risk if people from these other localities bring the virus to us here,” he said.

He reiterated during Monday’s council meeting that the city needs to be proactive, given the lack of health care capacity here and plans to potentially return to in-school classes next month.

Ouray City Councilor Ethan Funk said he sees people standing in line outside busy restaurants not wearing masks and called compliance overall “disappointing.” He said he drove to Silverton the weekend of July u and said compliance with San Juan County’s mandatory mask order was “horrifying.” Compliance was so poor, he said, that he kept driving to Durango.

“I don’t see the harm in doing that (requiring masks to be worn outdoors) in the commercial district. I think it provides some ease of mind to visitors that was lacking in Silverton,” he said.

During Monday’s council meeting, Funk said there were so many people packing the sidewalks of Ouray over the weekend that he had to walk into the street to get around them.

Boyd and Nelson, though, said they didn’t think it was necessary to define an outdoor mask zone. Boyd said he wanted to wait and see how Gov. Jared Polis’s statewide mask order, which took effect Friday, plays out before enacting any further restrictions locally.

“I’m not convinced we need it,” Nelson said, adding that he thought any recommendation passed along by the city would be adopted by the county.

Kingery told city councilors people passing one another on the street are at “pretty low risk” for spreading the virus. But he acknowledged Main Street can be different because of the difficulty of maintaining 6 feet of separation.

“I think when you’re walking down Main Street having a mask on is the best thing to do,” he said, without offering an opinion on the recommendation ultimate approved by the council.

Ridgway town leaders noted during the July 16 meeting that such a mandate may make sense in areas like Clinton Street, particularly around Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery, and in Hartwell Park, where crowds can sometimes congregate.

“I could see having it on Clinton Street,” Clark said. “The Colorado Boy can get pretty congested.”

Lakin suggested splitting Hartwell Park in two, with face coverings required on the south side, where the farmers’ market takes place, and not required on the north side.

Ouray County law enforcement officials who have expressed reservations about enforcing the county’s mask order repeated those concerns on July 16.

"To put in bluntly, we would be the last resort,” Ouray Police Chief Jeff Wood said, claiming enforcement needs to go through public health officials.

Ouray County Commissioner John Peters echoed reservations about trying to enforce the order.

“My biggest concern is going to be enforcement issues that we’ve been discussing,” he said. “It may raise and escalate more confrontations. I’m just wondering if we can just push the message more rather than make more orders.”

Ridgway Town Marshal Shane Schmalz said he received one complaint about employees at a business not wearing masks. He said when he approached the business owner — whom he did not identify — the man said he wouldn’t comply with the county’s order. After Schmalz talked with him more, the business owner said he would require his employees to wear masks.

Public officials also discussed the idea of instituting ambassador programs as a way to get the message out about the county’s order and provide masks and hand sanitizer to people. Boyd said the county has ordered 2,500 masks and 1,000 containers of hand sanitizer.

John Wood said a better option may be to set up a kiosk where people can pick up those items, rather than having volunteers walking around and actively trying to hand them out. He also suggested setting up signage along the streets and sidewalks informing people they’re entering a zone where masks are mandatory.

“Maybe it looks more like a marketing campaign in Ouray,” he said. “That way the message is there every time somebody is traveling up and down the sidewalk.”