Council votes to not require people to wear face masks

Majority defers to county guidance

By Mark Reaman

While voting Monday to not mandate the use of face masks in town, the Crested Butte Town Council members all encouraged masks’ use and agreed to spend $2,000 to purchase face coverings for the general public to use when going into high traffic areas such as the post office or for groceries.

“We have received an amazing amount of emails on this topic from people on both sides,” said Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “I don’t think I’ve seen as many email comments since the Whatever USA issue.”

The majority of the council quickly made it clear they were in favor of whatever Gunnison County Public Health director Joni Reynolds included in her public health orders that would help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“This is a good topic for relying on expertise and I defer to Joni on this,” stated council member Mona Merrill. “It seems like the simplest, easiest way to respond to the face mask issue is to follow the county’s lead.”

“I recommend staying in line with the county on this, too,” said council member Chris Haver. “I do think it is important to create a culture of love and respect. And we should do what we can to show we take this seriously. We need to safeguard each other.”

“I agree with staying with the county. They may require people wear face masks in public at some point and I’m fine with that, too,” said council member Laura Mitchell.

“I agree. We can strongly encourage it and help businesses purchase masks, but I don’t think the town should mandate people wear them at this point. I would support it if the county does it,” said council member Will Dujardin.

“The CDC recommends wearing masks,” countered council member Mallika Magner. “We have heard that visitors will want to go where they feel safe. Based on the comments we have received, it is clearly not a question of people not wearing masks because they don’t have them. It is more a political statement. I care about the health and safety of everyone in town and would go with the other jurisdictions that require them.”

Schmidt too wanted to enforce people wearing masks. “I was disappointed to go down Elk Avenue last weekend and see people not social distancing and not wearing masks,” he said. “I represent the at-risk group and they are concerned about their health. I would definitely like the town to provide masks for public places. Tim Wirth, who owns a home here, sent the town $1,000 from ‘second homeowners who care’ and the idea is that money could go toward buying masks.”

Most of the rest of the council agreed with the idea, but Magner said she would prefer to see the money used elsewhere. “I would rather the thousand dollars go to help people that need to pay rent, for example,” she said. “People are choosing to not wear masks. It’s not because they can’t get them. It seems a waste of money when money is tight.”

“I disagree,” said Schmidt. “It’s like me with reusable grocery bags. It took a while for me to get trained to use them. Some people aren’t trained to wear a face mask and this gives people an opportunity to get them.”

Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce director Ashley UpChurch said the chamber could encourage visitors to wear masks and her staff could hand masks out at the Visitors Center.

“The convenience factor is important,” said Mitchell, “especially when people visit town. They have ‘vacation brain’ and many aren’t thinking about the need for [masks]. This would help give them the opportunity.”

“The council consensus is that if the county did it we would be okay with them mandating face masks. Do we want to encourage them to go down that road or even push them to require face masks?” asked Dujardin. “Businesses can also put up signs saying they won’t serve people without face masks.”

No one else on the council wanted to make the push to the county but all agreed to defer to Reynolds and her decision.

Magner made a motion, seconded by Schmidt, to require face masks be worn in town while inside businesses open to the public or outdoors where people are unable to maintain safe social distancing from others. The motion was defeated 5-2, with Magner and Schmidt voting in favor.

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