Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday issued a statewide mandatory mask order for public places that takes effect 12:01 a.m. Friday.

The mandate requires anyone older than 10 to wear masks in public indoor spaces. Polis also said Coloradans should continue to stay 6 feet apart from each other and avoid gathering in large groups.

“The virus doesn’t stop at city lines,” Polis said. The mandate is meant to provide “moral and scientific clarity” to wearing masks across the state, he said, especially for tourists.

Additionally, the mandate was issued to protect the economy and ensure businesses do not have to close again because of a surge in cases.

“This is the situation we are in, not the situation we want to be in,” Polis said.

In Southwest Colorado, Mercy Regional Medical Center has reached staffing capacity for its intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients.

“Wearing a mask is not a political statement,” Polis said. “It’s simple, it’s common sense and it’s data.”

Polis said the virus is a threat to everyone, regardless of his or her ideology. The mandate is also intended to protect front-line and retail workers who have no choice but to be exposed to shoppers and tourists. Previously, Polis said some shop and restaurant owners did not feel they had the authority to kick people out who refused to wear a mask.

“If you drive a car, you wear a seat belt,” Polis said, regardless of whether you believe politically in speeding laws.

“The mask order is the law,” he said.

“Wear a damn mask,” he said at a news conference last week. He called people who refuse to wear masks “selfish bastards” in a Facebook post on Sunday.

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It was not immediately clear if any fines or penalties are associated with not wearing masks. The governor said some towns and cities already have penalties in place for violating local mask orders.

Previously, Polis was hesitant to issue a statewide mask requirement to balance “bodily autonomy” and individual rights with protecting the larger community. Polis said Thursday he changed his mind and made wearing a mask in public places a requirement because data has shown that a mandate increases mask-wearing by 15%.

He said the effectiveness has less to do with enforcement and more to do with implementing a clear message across the state.

The new requirement will work much like a trespassing law. For example, you can’t walk into a store naked. In this case, you can’t walk into a store without a mask.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the statewide mandate is a “very smart move.”

Denver is one of the top three cities people are flying into to get access to “our mountains” for vacation and to avoid hot spots on the coasts, Hancock said.

He said leaders in Colorado should not wait for numbers to jump higher before they institute a statewide mask requirement.

The mayor of Aurora, Mike Coffman, said a statewide mask requirement is the least intrusive approaches Colorado leaders can take to slow the spread of the virus.

For Polis, getting the response to COVID-19 right means “protecting those most at risk.”

The governor encouraged people to bring groceries to their older neighbors and do other things that will help protect people in the community.

“We need to be compassionate now more than ever,” Polis said.

Brian Devine, deputy incident commander and environmental health director for San Juan Basin Public Health, said the agency supports the governor’s order.

“There is significant evidence supporting the effectiveness of masks, and we believe it’s a powerful tool in our toolbox for containing the spread of the virus,” Devine wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. Mandating their use at the state level is a “powerful and consistent message for residents and visitors in counties throughout the state,” he said.

Devine said the order allows businesses to continue to operate while reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Polis said the state will provide personal protective equipment, including medical-grade masks, for schools to keep students and teachers safe.

“I’m confident it will increase mask-wearing in Colorado,” Polis said.

ehayes@durangoherald.com

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