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Mask-wearing requirement remains in place for Durango, but that may end soon

City Council to examine easing ordinance Tuesday
Mike Hurst, manager at El Moro, hands a to-go order to Candace Nadon at the restaurant on Main Avenue in Durango. El Moro, like other restaurants in town, may ease its mask-wearing ordinance if the city eases its ordinance requiring facial masks in public places. The City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to ease mask wearing at its Tuesday meeting.

In the wake of new mask-wearing guidance from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, restaurants in Durango are looking to ease their policies – as soon as the city lets them.

The current city ordinance, which requires face masks in all public places, could be eased as soon as Tuesday, said Durango Mayor Kim Baxter. It expires Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the City Council likely will vote on a “Free to Choose” ordinance, which would allow private businesses to choose to drop or keep requirements that masks be worn, Baxter said.

The ordinance, if approved, also would allow individuals to choose whether they wear a mask, Baxter said.

On Thursday, the CDC said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outdoors or indoors except in specific circumstances or when using public transportation or visiting hospitals.

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis dropped the state requirement to wear masks in most public places. Colorado may still require a mask be worn during events with more than 500 participants.

Polis said the state will “suggest” people wear masks when indoors around strangers.

“I’m only one city councilor, but I’m fairly sure we will adopt a new resolution,” Baxter said.

The ordinance will be similar to one passed by Grand Junction’s City Council, she said.

Baxter noted that CDC guidance states masks are not needed in most circumstances indoors or outdoors for the fully vaccinated, and she said “Gov. Polis’ stance is essentially the same.”

It also makes sense to update the city’s ordinance because vaccinations are now available to anyone 12 and older and because councilors want businesses to be fully open, Baxter said.

If businesses still want to require masks on their premises, they are free to adopt that policy as well, Baxter said.

A business that requires face masks can call police if someone does not wear a face mask inside the business, much the same as calling police to deal with patrons who don’t wear a shirt or shoes, she said.

Police may issue trespassing violations to people who do not wear masks in businesses that still require them, Baxter said.

Carly Van Hof Thomson, business operations manager with Zia Taqueria, said that since the CDC announcement, she has seen more people not wearing masks inside Zia’s two Durango restaurants.

Zia began its normal seating layout Friday, dropping its 6-foot distancing established by closing off some tables for use in dining rooms.

“We went ahead and put chairs out at those closed tables. We have very small restaurants, and we need seating space for people,” she said. “It had been clear to us over the past few weeks that our customers were really seeking that; you know, they were moving chairs and trying to sit at those closed tables anyway.”

Van Hof Thomson said the restaurant would continue to require face masks for its employees, and it was “in a holding pattern” about requirements that customers wear masks until the city adjusted its ordinance.

“We’d like to see what the city does, so we’re kind of in a little bit of a waiting game,” she said.

“Anecdotally, we’ve been having to ask more people to wear masks the past couple days since the CDC guidance came out. Our signs (asking customers to wear face masks) are still up, but we’re not throwing anyone out if they aren’t wearing a mask,” she said.

Kris Oyler, co founder of Peak Food and Beverage, also said his restaurants are waiting on tweaks to the city’s face-mask ordinance and further guidance from San Juan Basin Public Health.

“It's actually city and San Juan Basin Public Health rather that the state and CDC that impacts our operations, so we’re following those closely,” he said.

More should be known about local tweaks to mask requirements this week, Oyler said.

“Hopefully, we can keep opening up and getting back to regular business, but right now, it is a little confusing. But we're following the ordinances as best we can, and we ask our customers to follow them as well,” he said.

Ed Kileen, co-founder of Grassgurger, said he would meet with the management team Sunday evening to examine how the Durango restaurants would tweak their mask requirement, but he said any change in policy would come only after the city adjusted its ordinance.

“We want to come out of this thing the right way,” he said. “What I would say is that we want to do the the smartest and safest thing that gets us back to normal living.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com