Westminster issues mask order

`Sometimes, we have to protect the public from itself', Mayor says

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/12/20

Residents and visitors to Westminster are now required to wear masks in public, City Councilors voted May 11. The city becomes one of a growing list of municipalities requiring people to cover their …

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Westminster issues mask order

`Sometimes, we have to protect the public from itself', Mayor says

Posted

Residents and visitors to Westminster are now required to wear masks in public, City Councilors voted May 11.

The city becomes one of a growing list of municipalities requiring people to cover their mouth and nose when in public, whether visiting a local business, a government building or in a public space, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Councilors have been discussing the idea during their remote meetings for the past two weeks, but Monday's vote came down to a split 4-3 decision, with Mayor Herb Atchison casting the deciding vote.

“The thing that is driving me to look at this is, what are doing to protect the public. And sometimes, we have to protect the public from itself,” Atchison said.

Councilor's Anita Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz all came down in favor of the city's masking order. Councilors David DeMott, Lindsey Smith and Rich Seymour all opposed the order.

“This has all been through, the governor and the health departments all saying they don't want a mandate,” DeMott said. “What I would prefer, we recommend. I have concerns about people not being able to get masks and about people not being able to wear masks for different health reasons.”

Business in Colorado is slowly reopening, after Governor Jared Polis lifted Colorado's month-long stay-at-home order on April 24. Both the Jefferson County health department and Tri-County Health — the public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — voted to extend that order in their jurisdictions by an additional 10 days, until May 8.

But neither the state nor the public health agencies have made wearing masks in public a requirement. At their May 6 meeting, the Tri-County Board of Health noted that public health goal is to get people wearing face coverings at least 75 percent of the time they are in public. Based on a survey Tri-County Health performed of local businesses earlier in May, Adams County shoppers wore masks 84 percent of the time and shoppers in Westminster wore them 86 percent of the time.

DeMott had several objections to a Westminster-specific face mask order — ranging from enforcement concerns to worries that the city was simply singling out residents who could not wear masks for personal reasons.

“Other things I would point out, I've seen on social media where people are getting shamed,” DeMott said. “People take a picture of you at a grocery store without a mask. I want people to realize that some people can't, for a good medical reason, wear them. Maybe that person isn't making wise choices, or maybe they are have a good reason why they are not. I just think that this sort of thing can become very divisive in the community.”

Police Chief Tim Carlson echoed DeMott's concerns about enforcement. The resolution does not spell out exemptions or penalties for people not wearing their masks.

“I wouldn't know what the mechanism is to enforce something like this,” Carlson said. “There are challenges with that, to say the least.”

But Councilor Seitz said it will not be up to police to enforce. She noted that police did not have to enforce the state and health department's stay-at-home orders and didn't think the city's mask order would be any different.

“It's giving cover to our business community that does not want the backlash of asking someone to wear a mask but does want to protect the other customers and their employees,” Seitz said. “I think that's a valid reason to want to have this, even without the teeth of a penalty. It gives them the coverage to say this is the law in Westminster.”

Education campaign

Atchison said he had been back-and-forth on the issue and would only support it if it included an education campaign, which Councilors later approved. That campaign includes spending $100,000 of the federal CARES Act revenue the city is receiving through Adams and Jefferson counties to purchase masks that can be given out to residents.

“The whole issues of masks and face coverings or stay-at-home or safer-at-home orders has become more political than public health, and unfortunately it's gotten very ugly in many areas,” Atchison said. “The other part is that we've been asked to protect the people who are in critical businesses that have been mandated by the state to wear face coverings.”

He said it's a matter of protecting Westminster's citizens.

“I am very concerned that if we don't do something it push this issue as far as we can to protect the citizens of the city, we are going to have bigger problem than we want,” he said.

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