States resist mask rules as Midwest virus uptick stirs alarm

Colorado Governor Jared Polis puts on his face covering after a news conference to update the state’s status in dealing with the new coronavirus Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Denver.

With Colorado's cases of COVID-19 soaring in the past month, it's no surprise: Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday extended the statewide mask order another 30 days, until around Nov. 10. 

The governor did make one change from previous mask orders. The order allows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in conjunction with local public health departments, to grant waivers  for "certain indoor activities that take place for a limited time period if such activities cannot practically or safely be performed while wearing a mask."

Colorado's seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 testing, a key indicator of where the state is trending, has crept up to 3.9%, now at its highest level since July, and a sign that Colorado may be entering a third wave of COVID-19. The daily positivity rate for Oct. 10 was 4.81%, just shy of the 5% rate that could signal more aggressive action by the state to quell the virus.

On Saturday, the CDPHE reported 805 new cases of COVID-19, and 284 people are hospitalized for the virus. The CDPHE also reports that 36% of available ventilators are in use, but that also includes non-COVID-19 cases. More alarming, 78% of the available acute hospital beds are in use (also including for non-COVID-19 cases) as of Oct. 11.

The first mask order was issued on April 15, requiring essential workers to wear face coverings. The statewide mask order came out July 16 and has now been extended four times, including Sunday.

The governor continues to plead with Coloradans to wear masks. During a Friday news conference, Polis spoke at length about the worsening pandemic, and likened wearing masks to wearing shoes: "If it was a foot infection you could reduce the likelihood of, simply by wearing shoes, you just wear the darn shoes" even if you like to go barefoot.

"If athlete's foot breaks out at your gym, you're probably wearing slippers and sandals for a week or two, so you don't get it. This is longer, and this is higher stakes. This ain't athlete's foot."

Mask-wearing is what separates Colorado from other hotspot states, Polis said. 

He also noted a significant increase in hospitalizations among white Coloradans, a change from when the virus has been more prevalent in communities of color. But there are people hospitalized in every demographic, he said. The state is also seeing more hospitalizations among rural Coloradans, he noted.

Areas that had been more fortunate to avoid cases are no longer that lucky, and the fastest growing group for hospitalizations is younger and white. A quarter of all hospitalizations are in the 60-69 age group, but that population is only 11% of the total population. The average hospital stay is 29 days.

"This affects you," regardless of demographic, the governor said: all races, age groups and regions. "There is no exceptionalism among this virus."

An examination of studies on the effectiveness of masks by Nature pointed out that "recent studies suggest  that they could save lives in different ways: research shows that they cut down the chances of both transmitting and catching the coronavirus, and some studies hint that masks might reduce the severity of infection if people do contract the disease.

A study that examined state mandates for masks said that early adoption in some states may have prevented as many as 450,000 cases of the virus. 

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