On Monday, Nov. 22, citing a risk of dwindling hospital capacity and the possibility of having to ration hospital care, the Board of Health of the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) approved a public health order requiring masking in all public indoor spaces in Adams and Arapahoe counties. The order will be in effect from Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022, and thereafter until more than 10% of staffed ICU beds are available in the North Central Region that covers Adams and Arapahoe counties. The current availability of these beds is 5.8 percent.
This order follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that all persons 2 years of age and older, including fully vaccinated individuals, should wear face coverings indoors in public in areas with high rates of community transmission, which currently includes Adams and Arapahoe counties. As of Monday Nov. 22 in Arapahoe County, the COVID case rate is 303/100,000, with 202 hospitalizations and 24 deaths thus far in November. Hospital capacity remains extremely tight, with ICU bed utilization at 93% in Adams County and 100% in Arapahoe County.
“While getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent transmission of COVID-19, we could still breach hospital capacity if we do not take additional prevention measures,” said John Douglas, MD, executive director of Tri-County Health. “Masking indoors provides us another tool to keep ICU beds available for people coming in for a range of conditions such as heart attacks and auto accidents that need those beds.”
Exemptions from the public health order include individuals under age 2, those individuals who cannot medically tolerate a face mask, and businesses and facilities that implement a voluntary vaccine verification program using a policy that assures full vaccination of all employees, staff, guests, and customers.
The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners issued the following statement about the public health order:
The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners recognizes the statutory authority of the Tri-County Health Department to issue and enforce public health orders. We are aware that this newest order is generating controversy. However, given our strained hospital capacities as we enter the winter season, in the absence of statewide action, Tri-County has decided that to avoid rationing hospital care, this is the best of our limited options. To further control the spread of COVID we encourage everyone to supplement mask wearing with other responsible preventive practices such as frequent hand washing, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
There are more than 1,500 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado, and hospitals statewide are at about 95% capacity, including non-COVID-19 patients. Of the COVID-19 hospitalizations, 82% of these individuals are unvaccinated, according to CDPHE data.
TCHD’s order was developed in collaboration with other health departments in the metro region and comes after the Metro Denver Partnership for Health (MDPH), sent a letter to Governor Polis on Nov. 12, urging him to issue a statewide mask mandate. The governor has declined to take such an action, deferring instead to local officials. MDPH is comprised of Boulder County Public Health, Broomfield Department of Public Health and Environment, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, Jefferson County Public Health, the Tri-County Health Department and the Public Health Institute at Denver Health.
For more information, visit www.tchd.org/coronavirus.