Colorado lifts rules for masks, quarantines, outbreaks in schools

Updated public health order lasts until Aug. 1 unless extended

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In yet another major lifting of state-imposed coronavirus restrictions, Colorado released an updated public health order that removes mask requirements for schools and repeals the mandate for school protocols regarding outbreaks and other instances of COVID-19 cases.

The updated order — which took effect July 1 and expires on Aug. 1 unless extended — whittles Colorado’s state-imposed virus restrictions down to a point where they leave public settings in most Coloradans’ daily lives unaffected.

Here’s a look at what changed with the updated public health order.

Mask requirements

Previously, the list of settings where masks were required for unvaccinated individuals included — among other places — preschool through grade 12 schools and child care centers and services, including camps. The requirement also applied to staff of Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles offices.

The updated order removes those rules and adds a requirement that unvaccinated staff use medical-grade masks.

Masks are now required for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated patients, residents and visitors — and medical-grade masks are required for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated staff — in the following settings that serve vulnerable or at-risk populations:

• Homeless shelters;

• Prisons and jails; and

• Emergency medical and other health care settings.

All of the settings identified in the list above are “strongly encouraged to require all of their unvaccinated and not fully vaccinated staff to participate in COVID-19 testing,” the order’s text says.

That includes daily rapid testing every day that they work in the facility or setting, or once-weekly polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing.

Exceptions to the mask requirements include Coloradans 11 years of age or younger and those who “cannot medically tolerate” a face covering, the order says.

See a list of other exceptions on page 3 in the order’s text here.

School case response rules lifted

The updated order also repeals the requirement for schools to follow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidance on outbreaks and other instances of COVID-19 cases.

Previously, the order said: “Schools and child care shall work with their local public health agencies as COVID-19 cases occur, and shall follow the CDPHE guidance for Cases and Outbreaks in Schools and Child Care.” That guidance is listed here.

The lifting of that requirement means people who have close contact with a person with a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms generally no longer need to quarantine.

“Schools no longer need to adhere to the broader quarantine and isolation requirements in previous (public health orders),” said a statement from the Colorado State Joint Information Center, which takes questions for the state public-health department.

“However, state and local public health officials have statutory authority to institute quarantine and isolation as needed to stop the spread of disease. These officials may continue to require isolation of ill individuals and quarantine for individuals who are suspected to have COVID-19,” the statement said.

School districts and local public health agencies could make their own decisions as to whether to impose outbreak, quarantine or mask requirements that go beyond what the state mandates.

Local limits generally lifted

The state’s color-coded COVID-19 dial was the set of restrictions counties had to follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affected capacity at restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial last Sept. 15.

Colorado allowed the dial to expire as expected in mid-April, but health agencies in the Denver metro area extended the dial system locally as a rise in virus cases and the continued spread of COVID-19 variants kept health officials worried. 

Since mid-May, several metro counties are now operating in what they call “level clear,” generally with no local restrictions — and that’s likely to continue unless things take a turn for the worse.

A month and a half after Colorado let its dial expire, the state also lifted capacity restrictions on large indoor gatherings, a limit that had remained after the state dial’s end.

Colorado’s Public Health Order 20-20 remains in effect and includes requirements for nursing facilities, assisted living residences, group homes and other care facilities.

‘Snapback restrictions’ still possible

A “snapback,” or return, to more state-imposed coronavirus restrictions could occur if hospitalizations rise high enough, according to a news release from the state public-health department.

In counties whose resident hospitalizations threaten to exceed 85% of hospital or hospital system capacity, the state public-health department may require implementing additional restrictions, the public health order’s text says.

Enforcement

Colorado’s COVID-19 public health orders are generally the kind that rely on voluntary compliance.

“Local authorities are encouraged to determine the best course of action to encourage maximum compliance,” the text of the order says.

But failure to comply with the order could result in penalties, including jail time and fines, according to the order’s text.

Public transportation

Nothing in Colorado’s order changes or repeals the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order requiring the wearing of masks on public transportation, according to Colorado’s order. The CDC’s requirements are located here.

Passengers on public conveyances — meaning airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and rideshares — traveling into, within or out of the United States, as well as conveyance operators, meaning crew, drivers, conductors and other workers, regardless of their vaccination status, are required to wear a mask over their nose and mouth, according to the CDC’s website.

All people, including workers and members of the public, regardless of their vaccination status, are required to wear a mask in indoor areas of transportation hubs, meaning airports, bus or ferry terminals, and train or subway stations, in the U.S., according to the CDC’s website.

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