Got This Covered(?)

mask papers 0620

One complaint that has been lodged rather consistently and across the political spectrum regarding Gunnison County’s response to Corona has been a lack of clear communication. You’d think by now the county would be well aware of this issue and work toward fixing it, but it seems, looking at the front page of the local papers, that no lesson has yet been learned.

The county issued a 10th amended public health order on Monday, this one intended to be in effect through Dec. 31. It details the specifics of our new color-coded system, presumably in an effort to provide clear direction and keep from having to issue new directives that often seem to cause confusion.

One aspect of the new order seems to have come out of the blue, as it were, since that’s the code we’re under these days (Code Blue! although it’s not the medical emergency it is in a hospital): the county has made mask wearing mandatory.

Someone somewhere along the way decided the word “mask” was pejorative, somehow, and off-putting, so the order refers instead to “face coverings,” which certainly makes me feel less resistant, but no matter how you choose to refer to this rose, the mandate appears to have caught off guard every public official who did not have a part in drafting this order.

Crested Butte’s town council was preparing to take up this very discussion — to mandate or not — for its own jurisdiction when it got the news. No official with the city of Gunnison, elected or hired, seemed aware this was coming. The mayor called a last-minute executive session for Tuesday’s scheduled meeting, although that may not have happened, since there’s a special, public, meeting this morning.

I’m not sure what the objective of this meeting is, although based on the quotes from nearly every council member in the paper, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in a mandatory mask requirement.

While acknowledging this as yet another clumsy stumble by the county, I’m not sure this is worth getting this worked up over.

I kind of thought the governor had already made masks, or face coverings in the event you are offended, mandatory across the state. Gunnison County had already mandated masks for everyone working in a county business, and was strongly encouraging those going into said businesses to wear them as well.

The new county order covers these two situations, as well as any place where you can’t reasonably expect to maintain six feet of distance from other people. And that’s it. As I read it, if you are some place in this vast county, even on Gunnison’s ultra-wide city streets, where you can keep six feet of distance between you and others, then you don’t need a mask. If you’re downtown, you probably need one.

That really doesn’t seem worth getting worked up over, but as we know, this is too big an ask for large numbers of people. We can reasonably expect people to wear pants, shirts and shoes as they go about their shopping, but a “face covering” is one step too far, apparently. Especially when this pandemic is one giant joke, and 112,000 dead people just isn’t worth getting worked up over.

Lately I am wondering if we might be more concerned over these deaths if more of them were children. Not that I am advocating or wishing for this, let me hasten to assure you; I’m just wondering if the death toll weren’t so severely skewed toward older people, many of them tucked safely out of sight and mind in assisted living facilities, if we would feel different about this virus.

I mean, I’d like to think we as a people collectively care for our parents, grandparents and other elders, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. If there were more “me” in this virus, as in : this virus could kill ME, then maybe I’d be more willing to put on a mask. Especially if you called it a face covering instead.

I think many public officials are scratching their heads over this mandate that caught them unaware because a lot of them were leaning the way of working toward buy-in with a “Wearing is Caring” campaign spearheaded by the chambers of commerce. I personally had thought if you posited it as something cool, referencing Gunnison’s ranching heritage (pictures of cowfolk wearing bandanas above the message “Cowboy Up * Cover Up”), you might gain more ground, but I doubt any campaign is going to pick up traction until a lot more people get sick and/or die.

Which is going to happen. I’m not clear if we’re regarding this as a second wave or not, since the first wave hadn’t really crested in a lot of places, but according to CBS This Morning this morning, 20 states have seen a spike in cases in the last two weeks. (It’s almost every state with a latitude south of Colorado’s, many states west, and either Vermont or New Hampshire — the map was fleeting and my northeast geography is lacking.)

The governor of Arizona was on the segment, assuring us he has it under control and there’s no need to stop the push to re-open, while a retired public health official in the same geographic state but clearly mentally many states away scoffed at that notion. “Sure, it’s under control today and tomorrow,” he said, or words to the effect. “But how about two weeks from now?” Arizona’s hospitals, I heard yesterday, are currently at 83 percent capacity and the number of cases on the rise.

[And you should see the picture they showed of someone’s covid-ridden lung. Yuck.]

Local officials are wondering about the question of enforcement for the new face covering mandate. If you make something mandatory, there probably ought to be teeth to put behind it, but Marshal Mike Reily of Crested Butte (where they have marshals, not police, for today’s discussion of semantics) said he hasn’t been given a strategy by the county.

One of the Crested Butte town councilors, noting that there’s not a lot of compliance taking place with mask wearing by either visitors or residents, said he wasn’t interested in escalating tensions, which seems a laudable goal.

But then you — or some of us, anyway — remember that there’s a pandemic on. The other day Gilly, wearing a face covering, helped an unmasked (they’re right; that certainly sounds more “bad boy”) customer whose inadvertent spittle landed on the side of her face.

Since the next unmasked customer to come through the door had a gun strapped to his hip (funny how the gun is no inconvenience but the mask is enormously so), our solution is to retreat behind our curtain and plexiglass. If you want full service, you can wear a mask; otherwise, you’re on your own.

I imagine the county will want to hold business owners responsible for their customers, but we aren’t going there. And until the county can articulate a strategy, preferably in full public view and with buy-in from other local officials, that’s the line we’re going to take. From behind our masks. Or face coverings.


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