Castle Rock to opt out of Tri-County mask rule

Directive spurs fierce debate among local residents

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The Castle Rock town council has voted to opt out of a mask rule imposed by the Tri-County Health Department, with councilmembers citing low COVID-19 case and death rates in Douglas County.

The council also cited past statements from Tri-County's executive director that a mask requirement is not necessary in Douglas County.

The decision came amid a backdrop of impassioned public comment leaning in favor of the mask directive during council's emergency meeting.

Six people spoke in support of lifting the mandate for Castle Rock while nine urged council to require masks locally. Councilmembers said they received hundreds of additional public comments online and through email.

As of July 14, the day council met, there were 1,307 cases of COVID-19 in Douglas County, according to the Tri-County Health Department. That rose to 1,322 by July 15. There were 4,931 cases in Adams County and 5,874 in Arapahoe County.

In Douglas County, 54 people have died from COVID-19. In Adams, 159 people have died and there are 352 deaths in Arapahoe County.

The Tri-County Health Department voted 5-4 on July 8 to require wearing masks in public, with a variety of exceptions, in its jurisdiction of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, but allowed local governments to opt out of the mandate. The deadline to opt out is July 23.

Douglas County commissioners said last week they want to opt out of the rule, but that action would apply only to unincorporated areas, not incorporated cities and towns like Castle Rock.

Councilmember Kevin Bracken said at the beginning of the Castle Rock council's meeting he would vote to opt out of the three-county rule after speaking with Tri-County's Executive Director John Douglas and reviewing local data — he presented data from July 7.

“There's no reason to have a mandate based on the numbers,” Bracken said. “If this gets revisited again and the numbers spike up to a dangerous rate, I will vote for a mask mandate.”

Councilmember Caryn Johnson said the vote was a difficult decision for her. She also said at the meeting's start that data does not support a mask rule and instead advocated for the town to launch an education campaign urging masks.

She also suggested using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to provide local businesses with masks they could hand out to customers.

Johnson said she would vote to institute a mandate if data worsens. “I would go with the data,” she said.

Residents who spoke in favor of the rule offered numerous reasons to uphold it. Some said they are immunocompromised or at high-risk for the virus, they said. Others pointed to research showing masks are an effective means of preventing the virus' spread and saving lives. Residents also said mask wearing could help get the economy back on track sooner.

Resident Leigh Camel said Castle Rock has been fortunate so far, but she fears that could change if enough precautions are not in place. She urged council to uphold the mask mandate.

“This entire thing in my opinion has become ridiculously politicized and the virus as we all know will not vote,” she said.

Kati Peditto said there is enough research to show masks prevent the virus' spread, especially before an infected person is symptomatic. The Castle Rock woman said she is immunocompromised and fears for her own safety if masks are not mandated.

“I am the face of a young person who could die or be placed on a ventilator because of this,” she said.

Thomas Woodward, a retired resident in his 70s, also said he is immunocompromised. Castle Rock has been fortunate in its case rate so far, he said, but he worries “all it's going to take to change that is one super spreader.”

Irene Rettenmaier said she believes mask wearing will help children get back to school, parents get back to work and could relieve pressure on businesses if they can lean on a mandate when asking customers to wear masks.

“I'm sad to have already heard each councilmember discuss this before you guys have even voted,” she said.

Residents in favor of opting out called the mask rule government overreach or questioned the effectiveness of masks. Some said they have medical conditions that make mask wearing difficult for them.

Mason Steele said he does not believe “the science is settled on this issue” and called mask mandates “government overreach.” Mask wearing is an issue of personal freedom, he said.

“Our bodies are made to expel harmful pathogens and if we're just keeping them close up with masking our face, that is not helpful,” he said.

Matthew Smith asked councilmembers to respect residents' constitutional rights and opt out of the Tri-County requirement. He believes residents can choose against wearing a mask and still take precautions to prevent COVID-19's spread, he said.

Smith said he would refuse to wear a mask if required in town.

“I will not comply. I will go to jail over not wearing a mask,” he said.

Resident Julie Denton said the community had successfully flattened the coronavirus curve and prevented overwhelming hospitals, making a mask mandate unnecessary.

Councilmember Jess Loban said 75% of the emails he received supported opting out of the rule.

“There's lot of organizations and science on both sides saying whether masks are effective or not,” he said.

Councilmember James Townsend said the vote to him boiled down to the mandate's impact on businesses. He worried a mandate would pit citizens against each other and did not want to ask businesses to police mask wearing, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jason Bower and Mayor Jason Gray said masks should be a personal choice.

Gray said he personally wears a mask to protect at-risk loved ones. He said “it's upsetting to me” when he's asked to explain his decision to wear a mask and urged community members to respect one another's decisions.

“I shouldn't have to tell people that my wife has cancer and I wear a mask for her,” he said. “I also wear a mask for people I don't know.”

Gray cautioned that Tri-County, the state or federal government could still instate a mask rule without giving governments the ability to opt out.

“We have to understand that this might be a mandate sometime and if it is a mandate we will be expected as a town to follow it,” Gray said.

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