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'Omicron has run out of fuel': Denver officials explain decision to end mask mandate

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Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
Credit: Mayor Michael Hancock, Facebook

DENVER — The indoor mask mandate is ending.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced in a Jan. 31 press conference that the city is not renewing the mandate, which took effect Nov. 24, 2021.

Starting Friday, Feb. 4, masks will not be required to enter a business unless the business still requires them, which they are allowed to do. Businesses are also allowed to require proof of vaccination. During the press conference, Hancock asked that people treat workers at these businesses with respect.

"Let's be peaceful, let's be understanding with each other as we make this transition," he said.

Masks will still be required in schools and child care facilities, the mayor said. Bob McDonald, the executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) said they are continuing to require masks in schools so that students can stay in the classroom and won’t have to switch to remote learning if they are exposed to COVID-19.

Credit: City and County of Denver

City officials are still strongly encouraging mask-wearing — especially among unvaccinated people, who are far more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people — but not requiring it.

Hancock and McDonald reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool to prevent infection, serious illness and death from COVID-19. And because those vaccines are free and widely available, “that means an effective end to the cycle of mask requirements and capacity restrictions as spikes and surges happen,” the mayor said.

You can watch the mayor's full briefing below.

Currently, about 78% of the city’s population is fully vaccinated. 40% have received a booster shot.

The latest data from the city's COVID-19 data dashboard shows cases steadily declining, a trend many other parts of the state are experiencing. The seven-day average of new cases in Denver, as of Jan. 29, is similar to what it was in mid-December near the start of the Omicron surge.

As of the mayor’s press conference, just one death due to COVID-19 has been reported in the city since Jan. 11.

According to McDonald, models show lifting the mask mandate is safe.

“Modeling makes it very clear that lifting the face covering order now is safe. Cases are going to continue to decline. And what that says is that Omicron has run out of fuel in our community,” McDonald said.

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, about 80% of Coloradans could be immune to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 by mid-February.

During the Monday press conference, reporters asked if lifting the mask mandate was premature given the presence of the Omicron subvariant in Colorado. The subvariant is believed to be more contagious.

 “We will not see a surge like we just saw with Omicron 1,” McDonald said, adding that many people have several layers of protection due to vaccinations and prior infections. “I don’t think it’s too premature.”

Another reporter asked Hancock if mask mandates would ever come back if a novel, more transmissible variant emerged in the future.

“We’re going to let data lead us where we go,” the mayor said. “If there was a major spike that threatened the health of our residents, then we will make decisions accordingly.”

Later in the day Monday, the Tri-County Health Department's Board of Health announced that the mask mandate for Adams and Arapahoe counties would expire February 5.

"Due to rapidly improving COVID-19 conditions, vaccine availability as well as a wide range of effective prevention measures available to our schools and community— including the availability of high-quality masks, rapid testing, good ventilation, and having people stay home when they are sick—the Board decided that this week was an appropriate time to end masking requirements via public health order and to allow schools and communities to decide what works best in their contexts," according to a news release.

In Jefferson County, the board of health voted unanimously to end the indoor mask mandate in that county for schools and businesses on Feb. 18.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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