Ridgway, Ouray consider requiring masks in some outdoor areas

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Municipal leaders in Ouray and Ridgway are considering designating certain outdoor areas as mandatory mask zones, as tourists continue to flood Ouray County and coronavirus cases rise in surrounding counties.

Elected officials in the two municipalities generally agreed during a joint work session with Ouray County commissioners and local law enforcement officers Thursday evening on the idea of requiring people in high-traffic outdoor areas to wear face coverings, just as they must in virtually all indoor spaces under the county’s two-week-old mandatory mask order.

The Ouray City Council will discuss the issue during its meeting on Monday, while Ridgway town staff will come up with recommendations next week. The recommendations from both municipalities will come before the county’s so-called Joint Policy Group, which consists of elected officials from Ouray, Ridgway and the county, next Thursday, July 23. It’s likely that any requirement for masks to be worn in outdoor areas would be tacked onto the county’s current order at the discretion of Public Health Director Tanner Kingery.

No decisions have been made, but potential outdoor areas where masks would be required due to crowding include Main Street in Ouray and Clinton Street and Hartwell Park in Ridgway.

The idea was floated by Ouray City Councilor Glenn Boyd, who also serves as the county’s emergency manager. Boyd pointed out in the course of the last week that one new positive case of COVID-19 had been reported in Ouray County, 15 in Montrose County and 17 in San Miguel County. He also noted that the town of 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 people from states like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, where infection rates are spiking, are continuing to visit Ouray in large numbers.

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

The county’s mandatory mask order requires people to wear a face covering inside most businesses and all local government buildings, as well as when they’re waiting in line to enter a business.

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 last weekend 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 (Ouray) commercial district. I think it provides some ease of mind to visitors that was lacking in Silverton,” he said.

Ouray City Councilor Peggy Lindsey joined the chorus of support for an expansion of the mask mandate in Ouray.

In Ridgway, town leaders noted 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,” Mayor John Clark said. “The Colorado Boy can get pretty congested.”

Ridgway Town Councilor Beth Lakin suggested splitting Hartwell Park in two, with face coverings required on the south side, where the weekly 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 Thursday.

“To put in bluntly, we would be the last resort,” Ouray Police Chief Jeff Wood said.

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 visiting 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 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.”