As the City of Denver prepares to lift stay-at-home orders on Friday and enter the first phase of re-opening, dubbed “Safer-at-Home,” Mayor Hancock is shifting focus to another safety measure to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Face masks will now be a requirement in Denver, instead of just a strong suggestion.

Per a formal order, starting Wednesday, May 6, until further notice, Denverites over the age of 3 will be required to don a face covering any time you’re inside of—or are waiting in line to enter—public spaces, according to the city’s press release released last Friday. “It’s a symbolic gesture to your neighbor that you care enough about them to wear a mask, and that’s what we’re asking everyone to do,” Hancock said at a press conference Tuesday, after opening with a moment of silence to remember the 206 Denver citizens who have died already of complications from COVID-19. (There have been 17,364 confirmed cases and 903 deaths statewide as of Tuesday afternoon.)

Denver joins the ranks of other cities around the U.S. that have made face masks mandatory, like New York City, San Francisco, and Stillwater, Oklahoma—where the mandate was reversed after just one day, due to threats of violence. And after some confusion following the initial announcement last Friday, Hancock clarified further guidelines at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. The new public health order applies to Denver residents or visitors in the following public venues:

  • Any public or government building
  • Retail and commercial businesses
  • Healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, blood banks, behavioral health providers, and any facilities providing veterinary and similar healthcare services for animals
  • When waiting for or riding on public transportation (bus stop, bus, light rail station, or light rail train), or any taxi or ride-sharing service
  • Employees, contractors, executives, and volunteers must wear a mask if they are working at retail and commercial businesses, anywhere in which food is being prepared, reception/checkout areas, grocery/pharmacy aisles, public restrooms, waiting rooms, service counters, or common areas like hallways and parking facilities

Hancock stressed that masks are not required if you are walking, recreating, or exercising outside, but he still strongly suggested wearing a mask any time you are out and about. The Denver Police Department, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE), and Parks employees will be monitoring and enforcing the use of face masks, though Hancock and Denver city attorney Kristin Bronson stressed they are mostly aiming for a good-faith system of compliance and enforcement.

However, if law enforcement officers enter a business or venue where employees or most visitors are not complying—and where it appears there was no clear signage or effort on the part of the business to enforce the mandate—citations may be issued. Failure to comply could result in fines up to $999. Other cities and counties across Colorado, like Boulder, Fort Collins, and Summit County have begun enforcing similar mask requirements—though so far Weld County, Adams County, Jefferson County, and several others are not following suit at this time.

(Read More: Common Questions About Face Masks, Answered)

DDPHE has partnered with the Denver Police Department to provide free masks and hand sanitizer starting tomorrow for underserved and vulnerable community members who might not have easy access to masks or the materials necessary to make them. The mobile unit—called the “Compassion Cruiser”—will launch tomorrow with its first route, starting in Montbello.

Other grassroots efforts, like the Denver Mask Task Force and Rafi Nova (a local manufacturer of backpacks and pouches), have also stepped up to make free masks to donate to vulnerable populations, or anyone who cannot afford them. The city is considering anything to be a proper face covering if it is made of cloth, fabric, or any other soft, permeable material that completely covers the nose and mouth, and fits snug around the sides of the lower face. The mask should also have several layers of fabric and be able to be machine washed and dried without damage or change to shape, per the press release from the DDPHE.

In addition to the mask order, Hancock laid out details about the city’s current testing capabilities and plan for contact tracing on Tuesday. He said the city is on track to have trained 100 contact tracers, and that while the city’s current testing capability is around 1,000 swab tests a day, they have the possibility to expand that to 3,000 additional swab tests a day (the state recently launched an interactive map for finding your nearest community testing site). Hancock also announced the creation of the Wellness Winnie, a mobile public health unit that will offer COVID-19 testing to those who are unable to leave their homes.

While some businesses are able to open starting on Saturday (salons, pet groomers, tattoo parlors, and retail stores, or offices that are able to operate at 50 percent staffing capacity), Hancock offered a reminder that establishments such as theaters, concert venues, bars, and restaurants (except for takeout and delivery) will remain closed until further notice. He encouraged businesses that can still manage to work from home to continue doing so.

“Saturday might feel like we’re taking small steps forward, but it is progress,” Hancock said. “It’s going to continue taking all of us to do our part to stay safe and stay healthy—that’s how we’re going to remain on this side of the curve.”

Editor’s note, 5/8/20: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that businesses in Denver could open on Friday, May 8. The stay-at-home order expires on Friday, and businesses can reopen on Saturday, May 9. The article has been updated to correct this error. 

Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill is 5280’s former associate digital editor.