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Jefferson County sets date to end mask mandate for schools, businesses

Students and residents of Jefferson County will have to wait two more weeks to remove their masks, following a decision Thursday by health officials to end the county’s mask mandate in indoor public spaces and schools on Feb. 18.

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The vote was unanimous from Jefferson County Public Health’s four-person board of health.

Jefferson County’s move comes just three days after Denver and the Tri-County Health Department, which provides COVID-19 health services to Arapahoe and Adams counties, decided to end mask mandates in businesses and public indoor spaces this weekend.

Tri-County went further by also eliminating mandatory masking in schools starting next week.

Harriet Hall, a member of the Jefferson County board of health, suggested the Feb. 18 end date in order to give schools time to accommodate children with compromised health conditions and to ensure the steep downward trend in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continues.

Dawn Comstock, who heads Jefferson County Public Health, told the board that Jefferson County Schools had asked that an end to mandatory masking be delayed until at least Feb. 11 to give staff and teachers time to prepare classrooms for maskless instruction.

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Health officials in Colorado estimate that 80% of state residents will be immune — either through infection or vaccination — to the omicron variant of coronavirus by the middle of this month. Omicron is extremely contagious but is also thought to create milder symptoms in those it infects than previous versions of the virus had.

Board member Cheri Jahn said she would have liked to have seen the mask mandate lifted earlier than Feb. 18 but she said she would back the motion in a spirit of compromise.

“Everything is going in the right direction,” she said of COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.

Thursday’s Jefferson County Health Department meeting, which attracted nearly 1,000 online attendees at one point, featured residents speaking on both sides of the issue. Several speakers said COVID-19 case numbers are still too high to get rid of mandatory face coverings and that coronavirus still represents a grave danger to medically fragile children.

But many parents who addressed the board said masking children in schools is overkill and damaging to kids’ learning and psychological health, given that COVID-19 overwhelmingly targets older, unhealthy people. They said it’s time to stop putting the burden of ending the pandemic on the least vulnerable segment of the population.

Counties outside of the metro area have moved recently to rescind mask mandates as coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations have dropped substantially in Colorado in the last couple of weeks. Summit County ended its order last week, and Larimer County announced this week that its mask rule will expire Feb. 12.

Broomfield was to end its mask requirements on Thursday. Boulder County, which put in place a mask mandate in September ahead of other metro area counties, has not yet indicated whether or when it will lift its order.

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