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Tri-County Health Department will extend its public health order requiring mask-wearing in public spaces “for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency announced in an Oct. 20 news release.

The order on mask-wearing initially took effect July 24 and requires masks in indoor public spaces. It also requires them in outdoor spaces whenever 6-foot distancing from those who are not members of a person’s household cannot be maintained. Tri-County is the local health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

No other changes were made to the order other than the extension, according to the news release. The July order will expire at the end of Oct. 22.

The extended order will last until the pandemic ends in Tri-County’s area or until Tri-County possibly amends or cancels it for other reasons.

“This approach is consistent with the one taken by many counties and municipalities in the Denver metro area,” John Douglas, the health agency’s executive director, said in the release. “As we enter our ‘third wave,’ we believe this is the best course of action since masks remain one of our most important tools in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and will likely be needed until effective vaccines are widely available and utilized.”

If a municipality or county opted out in July, they remain opted out of the extended order, according to the news release, but Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide mask order still applies in those areas.

Colorado requires masks for all “outdoor events” under the state’s safer-at-home order, according to a Tri-County fact sheet. Individuals in cities and counties that opted out of Tri-County’s order must still wear a mask outdoors when attending such events, according to the sheet.

Read more about Tri-County’s mask order, how it is enforced and who is exempt here.

“Any municipality or county that opted-out of (Tri-County)’s order can always opt back in as a means to help contain the spread of the virus,” Tri-County said in the news release.

How state, Tri-County orders compare

To avoid confusion, Tri-County amended its mask order in July to mostly align with the statewide mask order that took effect July 16. Tri-County’s order, like the governor’s order, requires people to wear masks in public indoor spaces.

The difference between the Tri-County and state orders is still the duration — Tri-County’s mask order initially lasted 90 days rather than the state’s 30 days. The state’s order has been renewed monthly. 

Tri-County’s order also continues to require masks outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained, said Douglas, the health chief. That’s the other key difference from the state’s order. 

Tri-County’s order aligns with the governor’s order on all aspects aside from the duration and the outdoor requirement. That includes exempting children 10 and younger from wearing a mask.

Tri-County will continue to monitor the science and data pertaining to mask-wearing and its impact on the pandemic and will adjust the order as needed, the release said.

Agency responds as cases spike

New social distancing restrictions for Adams and Arapahoe counties, announced on Oct. 16, marked the first public health orders Tri-County Health Department has issued since its order on mask-wearing in July. 

Tri-County issued the orders for those two counties in an attempt to slow the spread in Adams and Arapahoe and keep them from moving to even more restrictions under the state’s safer-at-home order, which would mean reduced capacity for businesses, places of worship and gatherings. If virus spread in a county becomes dire enough, it could ultimately be placed under a stay-at-home order like the ones in effect last spring.

Douglas County’s trend is more concerning than Tri-County would like, but it wasn’t alarming enough to warrant a new public health order there, Douglas, the health chief, said.

Since early September, Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties saw their first notably sustained increases in rates of new COVID-19 cases since July, according to Tri-County data.

The agency warned earlier in October that the three counties must slow the spread or face tighter restrictions.