Local Businesses and Area Residents Grappling with State Mask Mandate In Combating Pandemic

Teller County Experiencing Surge In COVID-19 Cases; Charis Named as “Outbreak” Location

~ by Trevor Phipps ~

In response to a surge of  COVID-19 cases across the state, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order that requires anyone in a public indoor building to wear a face mask that covers their nose and mouth.

This marks an about-turn in policy from recent statements, as Polis indicated he would not issue a mask mandate because law enforcement agencies did not have the resources to handle the enforcement aspects of such an order. But then on Thursday, after receiving requests from many business owners, and with other states taking similar measures, Polis opted to issue the mandatory mask mandate.

It is now required for everyone older than 10 years old to wear a mask when indoors. Some people are exempt from wearing masks such as those who are hearing impaired, or some other medical disability that prevents them from wearing a mask. Businesses now have the right to ask people to leave, and not allow them to enter if people are not wearing masks.

As for enforcement of the new executive order, the governor said that law enforcement agencies will be enforcing it as trespassing violations. For example, if someone doesn’t abide by the rule, they must leave the business or face citation consequences. However, local law enforcement agencies in the area including the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and the Woodland Park Police Department have maintained that they will  focus on educating the public, and that they will not be dishing out citations or detaining people.

According to Teller County Sheriff Commander Greg Couch, any enforcement of the mask mandate would come from the county’s health department and not the sheriff’s office. “The sheriff’s office’s mission with the new health order is to educate and inform the public,” Couch said. “We will not be taking enforcement action in regards to public health orders. That can only be done through the Teller County Public Health Department, which would take place as a civil court action.”

Both the Woodland Park Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office released statements on their social media pages saying that they would take similar approaches. “The position of the Woodland Park Police Department and the city of Woodland Park Code Enforcement is to continue to educate the public on the benefits of wearing face coverings in enclosed public places,” the police department’s post said. “We will stress that wearing a mask will slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We will not, however, be expending the resources of the patrol officers on issuing citations to individuals not wearing masks. We want to educate the public on the proper use of the mask and the benefits of wearing it.”

 Locally, most businesses now have signs on their door, saying that masks are required to enter. Even when people enter a restaurant, they are required to wear a mask until they get to their table. They don’t have to wear a covering, while dining.  But they are required to put a mask back on, if they walk back through the restaurant for any reason.

The rules are less restrictive for outdoor activities.

The governor hopes that the new mask mandate will slow down the tide of coronavirus cases occurring throughout the state, without having to pursue the option of closing down businesses again.

Locally, most patrons are quite respectful of the mask mandate at grocery outlets, but at small businesses, the use of masks has not been quite as prominent.

COVID-19 Cases in Teller County Spike Again

Last week, the confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus saw a significant increase locally. At the end of the week, there were a total of 68 cases, which is a rise of 15 cases from the previous week.

However, there have been no new deaths reported within the county since March, and hospitalization numbers have remained relatively low. According to a spokesperson with UCHealth  last Friday there were only three patients at the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital for reasons related to COVID-19.

Charis Bible College in Woodland Park

The state’s website last week did report Teller County’s first active outbreak being at the Family Bible Conference held by Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM) at the Charis Bible College in Woodland Park. According to the state’s COVID website, two employees have contracted the virus as well as six conference attendees.

In a statement issued by an AWM spokesperson, the college outlined the extensive measures they took to prevent the spread of disease during their conference. The spokesperson said that after the conference, they were notified that certain staff and attendees tested positive for the coronavirus. Charis Bible College sent a letter out to all of the attendees with information about the virus.

The spokesperson’s statement said that other places in the county had cases that have contributed to the recent local spike in confirmed coronavirus activity, and that during their conference on Fourth of July Weekend, there were 30,000 to 50,000 tourists coming into the area. “The county’s decision to label AWM as an “outbreak” location, without more facts, is confusing to the public,” the statement said. “The facts known at this time do not show that the handful of people who tested positive acquired COVID-19 at AWM’s facility.”

According to the state’s website, a place of business or other establishment is put on the outbreak list when “two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a facility or (non-household) group with onset in a 14-day period.” The outbreak is not considered to be resolved and taken off the list until there have been no positive cases related to the location for 28 days.

After hearing of the positive cases, the bible college decided to cancel their Kingdom Youth Conference that was scheduled for July 10. The college has also decided to hold its “Healing is Here” conference, scheduled for August 11 to 14, as a “virtual” online event.