• The Tri-County Health Department's headquarters in Greenwood Village.

Pointing to a decline in the rate of new coronavirus cases, Tri-County Health Department announced it will consider ending its mask mandates for schools and public indoor places in general in Arapahoe and Adams counties.

Tri-County’s board of health — the agency’s policy-making body — will hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 31 to discuss ending the public health orders. Information about the meeting, which will be held virtually, can be found here.

While cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 rose rapidly over the past month, the more recent decline in cases among all age groups has been “just as dramatic,” Tri-County Health said in a Jan. 28 news release.

“Recently released estimates from the state’s (data) modeling team indicate that over 40% of Colorado residents have been infected by omicron and that 80% of the state’s population will be immune to omicron by mid-February, with cases and hospitalizations predicted to continue to decline,” Tri-County said in the release.

Tri-County continued: “Given these trends and the growing availability to an array of prevention tools, particularly more effective medical-grade masks and rapid tests, in addition to access to free vaccines, TCHD believes it is an appropriate time to consider ending the mask orders.”

Colorado recently began offering KN95 and surgical-grade masks for free at some public libraries, fire stations, recreation centers and other community resource centers around the state, according to a Jan. 18 news release from Gov. Jared Polis’ office. Distribution sites are listed here.

In light of the surge of the omicron variant, the state recommends people upgrade from cloth masks to medical-grade masks such as KN95 or surgical masks, the governor’s office news release said.

Tri-County Health is “looking at light at the end of the tunnel” regarding the pandemic, the health agency’s news release said.

“While COVID-19 is likely to be with us for years to come and challenging new variants are likely to emerge, we are increasingly confident that we have sufficient tools at the present time — high levels of immunity through vaccination and recent infection, an increasing array of better treatments, and solid prevention measures through masking, testing and improved ventilation — to allow schools, businesses and other members of the community to implement the protections they feel are most appropriate for their situation,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health, said in the news release.

The health agency’s release also said that “such a step would not mean that our schools and communities should stop practicing effective COVID-19 prevention measures including masking.”

Douglas told Colorado Community Media that it’s unclear whether prior COVID infection will guarantee immunity to future variants.

“We can’t be certain that prior infection with any particular variant will protect against future ones, which is why we think that up-to-date vaccination — which is more likely to have broader protection — is so important,” Douglas said. “However, we do think that widespread immunity to omicron is likely to help our rates continue to fall over the next several months when warmer weather will likely lead to continued reduction of transmission.”

Mask mandates have continued for months

Tri-County Health was to extend its public health order requiring masks in schools and child-care facilities through Feb. 4 to give its board of health time to consider when to end the mask requirements for schools, child-care facilities and for public indoor spaces in general in Adams and Arapahoe counties.

Tri-County’s current school mask mandate, an order requiring masks for all people age 2 and older in schools and child-care settings in Adams and Arapahoe, took effect on Sept. 1 and was initially set to remain in effect until Dec. 31 unless extended. The school mask policy was previously extended until Jan. 31.

Tri-County’s broader mask mandate applies in public indoor places, such as event spaces, businesses, restaurants, gyms, government buildings and facilities, offices, and other spaces that are not considered an individual’s residence. The mask mandate applies to all people age 2 and older in all public indoor spaces in Adams and Arapahoe counties. It took effect in late November.

Aside from in Adams and Arapahoe, Tri-County also provides certain public health services in Douglas County but no longer has authority over countywide public health orders, such as mask mandates, in that county. The newly formed Douglas County Health Department has not issued a mask mandate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Colorado almost two years ago, and from the beginning, TCHD and its board of health have tried to use the evolving science and data to inform our decisions as to how best to protect our communities,” Douglas, the health director, said in the news release. “We intend to continue monitoring emerging data, making relevant prevention recommendations and working with our communities to help carry out our collaborative prevention efforts most effectively.

“We don’t know how long the tunnel will be, but we are increasingly seeing light as to how we can all live with COVID-19 in the months and years to come as normally and safely as possible,” Douglas continued.

Health agency highlights vaccine info

While vaccine protection is not 100% effective in preventing infection, it is still highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, particularly if a person keeps up to date with recommended boosters, according to Tri-County.

“Vaccinations are still the best protection against COVID-19, so it is important to stay up to date on your vaccines,” Tri-County said in the release. “The Pfizer vaccine is available for children 5 to 17, and all persons 12 and up should receive a Pfizer booster five months after completing their primary (vaccine) series. Adults 18 and older can chose from Pfizer, Moderna and (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines.”

Parents of vaccine-eligible children are encouraged to contact their health-care providers or visit the Tri-County Health website if they have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and where to get it, Tri-County said in the release.