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Masks and COVID-19 testing at local schools will be optional starting Saturday, Feb. 26. The Clear Creek County commissioners, sitting as the Board of Health, voted unanimously to lift these requirements at their Feb. 15 meeting.

Thus, when school resumes on Monday, Feb. 28, masks and COVID-19 testing will be optional for everyone in the building. Masks will still be required on school buses, as it’s a federal mandate.

School district officials have said educators are talking students about being kind and showing grace to those who continue to wear masks. They said mask-shaming would not be tolerated and have suggested adding it to the district’s anti-bullying policy.

Both school district and county officials felt it time to remove the mask requirement because of declining COVID-19 cases in Colorado and neighboring school districts dropping their mask requirements.

Most parents who spoke at the Feb. 15 meeting said they were in favor of making masks and testing optional. They said almost two years of mask-wearing has been detrimental to the students’ mental and emotional health, and testing student-athletes has been ineffective as results typically don’t come back until after competitions.

Idaho Springs’ Cristin Slaymaker advocated for leaving the mask mandate in place until children under 5 years old are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. She said masks were the best defense that her preschool-age child has.

The commissioners said they’d heard from educators who were tired of enforcing the mask rule with their students, and agreed it was time to drop it.

“More people will use masks if it’s required. But, is that outcome worth the fight that’s associated with it?” Commissioner George Marlin asked. “ … I think we’ve reached a point where it’s not.”

Tim Ryan, the county’s public health director, recommended that the mask requirement stay through the end of February, or six school days after Feb. 15. He said this would give educators and parents time to prepare, and allow time for case counts and positivity rates to fall to pre-surge levels.

He said that while case counts and hospitalizations are dropping throughout the United States and Colorado, they’re still comparable to what they were during the middle of the Delta-variant-driven surge. He wanted to allow time for the test positivity rate to drop from its current 9% to 5%, which was the previous threshold.

Commissioner Sean Wood said he wanted to drop the mask and testing requirements starting Feb. 19. However, Commissioner Randy Wheelock agreed with Ryan’s recommendation, and said he would vote against dropping the mask and testing requirements before the end of the month.

The commissioners eventually settled on Feb. 26 as that would allow masks and testing to become optional over a weekend. They said it would be strange to still require masks on Monday, Feb. 28 but not Tuesday, March 1.

Wood thanked Clear Creek School District officials and staff, saying they achieved “amazing results” in reducing COVID-19 in the school system.

“Your efforts don’t go unnoticed,” he continued.