Local Municipal COVID Restrictions Creating Confusion
If you plan on making a trip to Manitou Springs to frequent a shop, grab a bite to eat, sip a brew or even hang out in a crowded park, don’t forget to bring your COVID-19 protective mask. Otherwise, you may not be able to enter a business or restaurant, and could even be subject to fines and trespassing charges.
Despite the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis saying masks are no longer mandated outdoors and Colorado was lifting its ordinances and reopening completely, the town of Manitou Springs remains cautious, especially as tourism season kicked into full gear with the Memorial Day weekend.
City officials, including Mayor John Graham, have stated the mask ordinance will remain in effect, requiring people to wear face coverings inside businesses and outdoors when within 6 feet of other people, which is the opposite policy for neighboring Colorado Springs and Teller County as the pandemic recedes and people get vaccinated. .
But the local mask mandate has been met with mixed reactions.
“It is very confusing for people who come from, say Teller County, or even Colorado Springs,” a worker at Border Burger Bar said. “They ask how they are supposed to maintain social distancing guidelines and wear masks when restaurants are at full capacity once again and they are not required to wear masks in other neighboring areas.”
Places like Armadillo Ranch and Kinfolks, local venues for live music are normally packed and have reopened to pre-pandemic hours, and the mask ordinance is causing confusion for patrons, who have to mask up outdoors, yet they are closer than 6 feet away from other patrons. “It makes no sense,” a customer visiting Kinfolks from Kentucky said.
According to city officials, the main reason for maintaining the mask ordinance is tourism and a recent survey of residents indicates that 80 percent of those responding were concerned about others around them who were not wearing masks.
“We get people from all over,” Graham said. “They come from Colorado Springs and the region and they come from all over the country and some even from other countries, when allowed. There is this melting pot of people and there is no telling what the protocol is in their state and what their level of vaccination is and that is a concern. We want to be remembered for our scenery, our attractions, our springs, not as the place where the newest variant of the pandemic started.”
Between May 14 and 27, there were 2,796 new COVID-19 cases in El Paso County, according to official records, meaning there has been a high plateau of cases. Officials trace the cases to visitors from other states during spring break and those traveling for recent graduation and military events.
Continuing the mask mandate now, particularly when it is well supported by city residents, highlights the city’s cautious approach to pandemic response, Graham said. “I know we’re all tired of wearing masks, but it’s enormously more difficult to become more stringent in order to give people what they need when it’s not what they want.”
Those who do not abide by the ordinance, which will be enforced by local law enforcement officials and business owners who file a complaint, could face a fine of $25 for the first offense and a $50 fine for the second offense. Those asked to leave a business for failing to wear a mask could be charged with trespassing.
Children under 10 and those who cannot medically tolerate a mask remain exempt from the mandate. Those seated at restaurants, those exercising alone or with family members, and those who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone who is hearing impaired are also exempt, according to city officials.
Manitou Springs will continue monitoring the spread of the disease locally and reassess the necessity of a local mask mandate, Graham said.
Tourism Numbers Returning to Pre-COVID Levels
License plates indicate optimism for local merchants, as visitors are arriving from places as far away as Washington, D.C. and Washington state, although California and Texas continue to dominate. The reopening of the Cog Railroad and other attractions continues to spur the economy of the lower Ute Pass, as even Iron Springs Chateau will once again open for live performances.
“Visitor numbers are close to pre-pandemic numbers and sales are on the rebound,” according to the clerk at Mushroom Mondays, the popular gift shop on Manitou Avenue. “We lost a couple of businesses along the avenue, but new stores are opening up. It is good to see people back in town.”
Optimism reigns as some businesses are showing sales at or above pre-pandemic levels. “I think the reopening of the Cog along with the economy all at the start of the Memorial Day weekend will really help make up for the loss of revenue we experienced last year,” a worker at the Glass Blowers on Canon Avenue said.
A new paint job at the former Stagecoach, now dubbed the Manitou Eatery, welcomes visitors at the edge of town, with outdoor creekside dining.
Reservations are still in place for those who want to use the Incline and paid parking areas have been extended as far as the Chamber of Commerce, where kiosks are available and the new signage indicating the availability of parking spaces are confusing to users, who arrive thinking there are open spaces only to find nothing.
“I pulled into three parking lots where the signs indicated available spaces, to no avail,” a visitor from Virginia said. “Even the apps were not helpful in that regard. And, you can’t use the normal paid parking areas for the Incline, which is why I came here in the first place.”
Although the reopening of the Cog has caused consternation for local residents, especially along the Ruxton Avenue corridor, where construction woes have added to the traffic congestion, according to one resident who lives on Ruxton Avenue.
The confusion over masks has created the biggest concern, as signs on the edge of town state “Please Mask Up for Safety ” and merchants struggle to enforce the policy. One customer who got turned away from the Vault for refusing to wear a mask, said, “I am fully vaccinated and can prove it and the ordinance was dropped everywhere. It is ridiculous to be treated this way. Even Indiana isn’t this strict.”