Colorado residents need to be more vigilant about preventing the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday, after three weeks of rising numbers of new coronavirus cases in the state.

“We need to do better with coronavirus” Polis said. “The bad news is we’ve had some slippage, and the rates are going up here.”

Coloradans need to avoid gatherings, stay home more and, Polis repeatedly stressed, wear masks. People should not be waiting for their governor to tell them to wear a mask, because it’s settled science, he said.

“If I haven’t been clear,” Polis said, “wear a damn mask.” Click here to see video of Polis.

The seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases reached 300 this week, a new high since late May and early June.

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Mask mandates for 3 counties

Polis said a statewide mandate for people to wear masks would be unmanageable.

“We wouldn’t be able to enforce it,” Polis said. “For a mask ordinance to work it has to have local buy in ... Local policymakers and police have to cooperate to make mask ordinances work

“Fines at the municipal level, if they’re enforced, can be effective, particularly for out-of-staters.” 

Between 50,000 and 100,000 Texans and Arizonans visited Colorado over the July 4 weekend, he added, two states with surging coronavirus caseloads.

“I think they should be cited and given tickets if they’re violating mask ordinances in any given area, because they have to learn Colorado is serious about it.”

While Polis has refrained from a statewide mandate, counties and cities have chosen not to wait for the state to take the lead.

Of the 10 most populous counties in the state, Denver, Boulder, Larimer, Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas have made wearing a face mask in public mandatory. El Paso, Jefferson, Pueblo and Weld counties do not currently require it. The three counties under the Tri-County Health Department, Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas, can opt out of the requirement.

Even without a government mandate, many private businesses require customers to wear masks, although enforcing that has led to angry outbursts and assaults.

Masks, which initially were dismissed as ineffective in blocking the coronavirus, have become a political flash point, with President Donald Trump disdaining then and holding rallies at which anyone wearing a mask is mocked.

As health experts have gained a better understanding of the disease, masks have been recommended as the best way of slowing the spread of the disease to others.

Nevertheless, El Paso County doesn't have plans to make wearing a mask mandatory.

"At this point in time, El Paso County is encouraging the use of masks, particularly when in public and in close proximity to others," Michelle Hewitt, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Public Health Department said. "Our efforts have been heavily focused on proactively providing education and outreach to help communicate why it's important to wear a mask, and to help our community achieve voluntary compliance."

Penalties for not wearing a mask can be severe — In Boulder County it carries a fine of up to $15,000 and a year in jail.

Click here for the latest data from CDPHE.

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