The Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) Board of Health met today, Monday, Aug. 30 to discuss next steps regarding the school masking order that went into effect Aug. 23 and the subsequent opting-out of the order by Adams and Douglas counties. During the meeting, the Board of Health voted to rescind their policy on allowing opt outs to county-wide public health orders by Boards of County Commissioners, rescind their recent school mask order for children aged 2-11 years, and put a universal mask order in place for all schools in Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties, regardless of vaccination status.
The new order requires facial coverings to be worn by all individuals age 2 years and older in all school and child care settings and goes into effect Sept. 1, 2021, and is in effect until Dec. 31, 2021, unless amended, extended or rescinded.
“The most important thing we can do for children’s mental health and well-being is to assure in-person learning and limit interruptions to this in-person learning by keeping children and the classrooms safe,” Dr. John Douglas, TCHD executive director. “We have reached a point where transmission has increased significantly and is putting our communities at risk. We must now take the statutory responsibility and authority given to us by the Colorado Legislature to reduce the spread of communicable diseases and keep our communities safe. The new mask order will help to protect those who cannot get vaccinated and allow children to continue in-person learning.”
The Delta variant has now spread worldwide. It is twice as contagious as the strain that was spreading in Colorado last winter, and twice as likely to cause illness that requires hospital care. There is also a growing concern about further mutations of the virus (e.g. delta plus).
Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties continue to have high rates of community transmission and are currently in the CDC’s “high level of community transmission.” There have been 44 confirmed and suspected outbreaks since the beginning of August in schools in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Most new cases are among those who are not or cannot be vaccinated, including children younger than 12.
Wearing masks during times of high community transmission provides added protection to the person wearing the mask and can reduce transmission to others. Mask wearing in schools is particularly important because there are so many interactions in schools between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, because children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and because wearing a mask is safe for kids age 2 years and older.
Mask-wearing is one aspect of a comprehensive mix of mitigation strategies. Masks have been shown to be 50-70% effective in reducing transmission of infection. However, like vaccination, protection from masking is most effective with higher levels of use; mask-wearing compliance is highest when it is mandated.
“This school mask requirement will protect our children, our families, and our community members who cannot get vaccinated. Together with other mitigation strategies, it will help reduce disruptions caused by outbreaks and quarantines and allow our kids to get back to focusing on their education and social-emotional wellbeing,” said Douglas.
Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, and Jefferson counties, as well as school districts Adams 12, Adams 14, Westminster, Englewood, Sheridan, Aurora, and Cherry Creek have each put masking orders in place. TCHD has been working with school districts to achieve optimal in-person learning and prevent transmission of COVID-19 and will continue to do so.