Local transportation entities lift mask requirements

Windows will stay open on Mountain Express

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

As of Tuesday, April 19, the last of the mask mandates were lifted for the general public in Gunnison County. After more than a year of having to wear a mask when riding any bus in the county or walking through the county airport because of a federal mandate, those restrictions were lifted after a federal judge in Florida ruled the mandate was unlawful because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with the mandate. 

“We have lifted the mandate effective immediately,” confirmed Gunnison County Airport manager Rick Lamport late Tuesday morning. “I have just got off a telcon with TSA and all other Colorado public service airports and the TSA confirmed that the requirement is no longer. Signs in the airport terminal have now been removed, and announcements reminding passengers of the requirement in the terminal and by the airlines etc. at the gate have ceased.”

Lamport said TSA staff at the passenger checkpoints are still wearing masks “but that is their (TSA’s) own internal decision pending changes as they make them.”

RTA executive director Scott Truex said he had been made aware of the judge’s decision and reached out to his board to see if there was any objection to lifting the mask mandate. As of Tuesday he said masks would no longer be required of riders on the buses.

The same was true for the Mountain Express. As of Tuesday all the signs reminding people of the mask requirement were pulled and online content about their policies was also updated.

However, Mountain Express managing director Jeremy Herzog said the organization has learned some lessons over the last two years and while masks are no longer required for staff or passengers, he said that “we will continue to protect our staff and patrons from all airborne illnesses as best as we can.”

He noted that each bus will continue to have four open windows and one open hatch while making its rounds. The vehicles will continue to be disinfected every night and there will be added capacity when appropriate to keep the riders spread out as the system is financially able. 

Employees will be encouraged to continue frequent hand washing and disinfecting of the driver cabin when exchanging vehicles. “Based on guidance from the CDC, drivers and patrons are still encouraged to wear masks to decrease the spread of airborne illnesses if they feel comfortable; however we ask everyone to bring their own mask to help reduce the carbon impact we saw from frequent use and disposal of single use masks,” said Herzog.

Herzog said long-term lessons are planned to be implemented as well. “We are looking at permanent driver privacy cabins to continue to keep drivers appropriately spaced from patrons and will re-evaluate our sick pay benefit and associated etiquette/policies around illness in the workplace,” he said. “As our summer season approaches, we will conduct a broader public outreach campaign to educate our patrons about our safety practices.”

The Gunnison Watershed School District was able to lift the school bus mandate some time ago when the CDC released updated school guidance. Superintendent Leslie Nichols said that even though the federal mandate still existed the CDC had recommended removing the school bus/vehicle requirement and so they did.

The county’s COVID response team and health department remind people there are still times when a mask would be appropriate. “As these transitions continue to occur across settings, we encourage those who are ‘at-risk’ or have elevated risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease to continue utilizing a medical grade facial covering,” explained Gunnison County public information officer Loren Ahonen. “Additionally, those who live with people who are at risk would benefit from continuing to use a high-quality mask. And, as always, we ask those who are ill (with COVID-19 or other illness) to avoid exposure to others by refraining from going out in public and wearing a mask when around others.” 

The CDC first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation in February 2021. The TSA then issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.

But as of now, there is no need to pull out the mask when boarding a bus or plane in Gunnison County. At the same time, anyone who is more comfortable wearing a mask is welcome to do so.

“I really appreciate the cooperation of the traveling public these last couple of years,” concluded Lamport. “I sincerely hope that all their future travels through our soon-to-be-updated airport will be a great experience!”

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