Special meeting on June 8
By Mark Reaman
After a lot of input in the last week from local residents concerned about the number of people not wearing face coverings, the Crested Butte Town Council will reexamine making them mandatory. A special meeting to decide the issue will be held Monday, June 8 at 6 p.m.
The council added the discussion item to the June 1 council agenda after receiving dozens of emails from people wanting a regulation requiring the use of masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Council members decided, however, that since it was a last-minute addition, people should have more notice about the discussion and so they called a special meeting for next Monday.
Council will start the June 8 discussion based on language they voted down May 4 when considering whether to make masks mandatory. At that time the council received copious feedback from people on both sides of the issue. They decided on a 5-2 vote to follow the recommendations by Gunnison County Public Health director Joni Reynolds, who has not required facemasks to be worn even though she has seriously considered it.
The language to be discussed Monday begins by requiring people to wear facemasks “when entering and while inside of a place of business open to the public.” It requires masks in restaurants when not eating or drinking and also “in such public indoor or outdoor places where persons are unable to maintain safe social distancing (six feet or more of separation) from others not of their household.”
Exceptions include kids under two years old, persons for whom a face covering would not be possible without causing impairment to health due to an existing health condition and persons working in a professional office who do not have face-to-face interactions with the public.
Scheduling a formal discussion didn’t stop the council and public from discussing the issue in depth immediately. “We’ve been told by county manager Matthew Birnie that the county doesn’t have plans to make face covering mandatory but they would support a town decision to do so,” said council member Will Dujardin. “People will get fired up about this issue. But a lot of our citizens fear for their health and safety when they walk down Elk Avenue.”
“If we want people to shop locally, I am hearing from a lot of people they won’t even go down Elk because of the lack of masks. They won’t go into enclosed spaces where people aren’t wearing masks,” said council member Mallika Magner.
“I strongly support taking action requiring masks. I support a Monday meeting,” said Glo Cunningham.
“The CDC recommends washing your hands, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said Kent Cowherd. “I am concerned and witnessed blatant disregard for mask wearing by the general public as health orders relaxed. I use a backcountry analogy that when going backcountry skiing, my shovel is there for you and your shovel is there for me. It is the same with facemasks.”
“Masks make it safer for everyone,” added Kathy Norgard. “Do the right thing. Other towns have made it mandatory. We can do it. It’s not a hard thing to do.”
“We always see this town as being pedestrian friendly and the friendliest thing you can do for pedestrians is have people wear masks,” said Sue Navy. “I am glad you will be revisiting this in a week.”
Richard Machemehl took the opposite point of view. “I feel it is better left up to the public. People taking takeout will be eating along Elk and can’t with masks. Plus what are the ramifications of not wearing a mask? Will people get arrested?”
Travis Underwood said he was reading from the World Health Organization website that stated, “‘If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19.’ Lisa and I wear masks when working in Chopwood but there is a contingent of people who won’t come in if masks are required. People from Texas and Oklahoma are glad they don’t have to wear masks.”
“People told me this past weekend that if they had to wear masks they wouldn’t come in,” agreed Kyleena Falzone of the Secret Stash. “There will already be a lot of people seated on Elk Avenue that won’t have masks because they’ll be eating and drinking. I don’t know how you would enforce it.”
Erica Woodward of the Little Sparrow said requiring masks would put her in an awkward position. “People come in the store and I don’t have to police them. I don’t want to scold a child or their parent about what they have to wear in the store,” she said.
“Things can’t go back to the way they were before March 13,” said Martha Keene. “This is our health and we need to protect the community. A lot of people will be coming, and pulling a buff up over your face when you go in a store is not a big deal.”
“Erica’s point about policing being an awkward situation is understandable,” said Dujardin. “But some businesses would appreciate the health order to fall back on.”
“Taking the onus off the business can be a good thing,” said council member Magner.
Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily said each community handles enforcement differently. “We take direction from the community so we can enforce it as you direct,” he said. “But the implications of my officers dealing with people without masks gives me some concern. I need to give it some more thought before Monday.”
“The concern came back to us because it is obvious that many people are not wearing masks,” said Dujardin. “Understand that if you wear a mask you have the potential to save a life. There’s a good chance we will see a second wave of the virus outbreak.”
“I don’t want people visiting here from outside to bring in COVID-19 again,” said mayor Jim Schmidt. “Masks would help people feel more safe.”
Woodward suggested the chamber of commerce conduct a poll of business owners to get broader feedback on the issue.
“I disagree with that,” said Magner. “If all the businesses require masks, I find it hard to imagine people just won’t go in any business. This is a matter of health and safety.”
Council member Chris Haver said he would appreciate hearing from the business community, as did council member Mona Merrill.
Council will discuss a proposed health order for the town to require masks on Monday starting at 6 p.m.