Manitou Springs announced plans Monday to keep a citywide mask mandate in place several days after Gov. Jared Polis largely lifted a statewide mask order, heading in the opposite direction of neighboring Colorado Springs as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

Residents and visitors in the summer tourist mecca will be required to wear face coverings in businesses and outdoors within 6 feet of others, the city said.

The release cited tourism as a key reason for the mandate's continuation. A survey of the community also found 80% of respondents were concerned about people not wearing masks in town, the city said.

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"We get people from all over. They come from Colorado Springs and the region, they come from out of state, internationally to some extent," Manitou Springs Mayor John Graham said. "We've got this melting pot of people coming in, and there's no telling what the protocol has been in their community and what their level of vaccination is, so that's a huge concern. ... We want to be remembered for our scenery, for our mineral springs, for a good time and for our attractions. We don't want to be a place where the newest variant of the pandemic started."

In El Paso County, the spread of the coronavirus has plateaued at a high level. In the last week, 1,440 people have tested positive for the virus. The hospital census of COVID-19 patients regionally is elevated, with 102 people hospitalized for the virus as of Thursday, county public health data show.

The data is showing early signs of a decline. The average number of people testing positive over seven days as declined to 199 per 100,000 as of Sunday, the first time it's dipped below 200 per 100,000 in a month, said Michelle Hewitt, spokeswoman for El Paso County Public Health. The number of people testing positive on average in a week has also dropped just below 7%, the county data show. 

At the same time, the pace of vaccinations is slowing, with only about 22,300 people getting vaccinated last week at public clinics, she said. At the peak in April, 37,800 people were vaccinated in one week at non-military clinics, the data shows. 

Continuing the mask mandate now, particularly when it is well supported by city residents, highlights the city's cautious approach to pandemic response, Graham said.

"I know we're all tired of wearing masks, but it's enormously more difficult to become more stringent in order to give people what they need when it's not what they want," he said.

Those who do not abide by the order could face a $25 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine for the second offense. Those asked to leave a business for failure to wear a mask could be arrested for trespassing, according to the release. 

The state's decision to lift Colorado's mask mandate followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance that cleared vaccinated people from having to wear masks indoors. The state order still requires that those in schools, prisons, hospitals and other specific settings wear masks. The state will lift those requirements June 1. 

Colorado and the CDC recommended unvaccinated people still wear masks in public.

In Manitou Springs, children under 10 and those who cannot medically tolerate a mask remain exempt from the mandate. Those seated at restaurants, those exercising alone or with family members, and those who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone who is hearing impaired are also exempt, the city said in a news release.

Manitou Springs will continue monitoring the spread of the disease locally and reassess the necessity of a local mask mandate, Graham said.

The city of Colorado Springs does not expect to implement a similar local mask order. It could consider one if the community sees a spike in hospitalizations, spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said.

The city does encourage everyone to respect the rules and preferences of individual businesses, she said. 

"Those who are not vaccinated should continue to wear masks and social distance, but as backed by the CDC, those who have been fully vaccinated can enjoy more freedom and a return to a more normal life," Fabos said. 

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