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For a business near the county line, mask mandates are a game of inches

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Masks are now required at indoor businesses in Arapahoe County. But some shoppers coming from counties without mask mandates may not even realize they've crossed county lines.
Masks are now required at indoor businesses in Arapahoe County. But some shoppers coming from counties without mask mandates may not even realize they've crossed county lines.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The one constant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is that things are always changing.

Few people know this better than Karli Millspaugh, owner of Curate: A Local Mercantile. Millspaugh’s shop provides a space for local artisans and vendors to sell their goods, and November and December has historically been a great time for business due to the holiday season.

“This is the time when most retail businesses get in the black,” Millspaugh said.

She spoke with Rocky Mountain PBS at Curate’s brick and mortar location in Arapahoe County. Just steps from her shop is Douglas County, right on the other side of County Line Road.

In the days before the COVID-19 pandemic, that dividing line hardly mattered. But in the era of mask mandates, it can make all the difference.

“We’re kind of in a unique position here, where people coming from Highlands Ranch might not even realize that they’ve crossed into a new county,” Millspaugh said. “So when mask mandates and things like that change, it just keeps us on our toes.”

Colorado Voices

Small businesses juggle mask mandates with holiday crowds

Arapahoe County is currently one of several metro-area counties that has an active indoor mask mandate for public indoor spaces like Millspaugh’s business. On November 22, 2021, the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, announced the new mandate. However, Douglas County’s new health department has authority over county-wide public health orders and COVID-19 services, so Tri-County’s mask mandate doesn’t apply there.

“I have to acknowledge that people are on different sides of this,” Millspaugh said, speaking less about geographic boundaries and more about ideological ones. “And our mission … is really to be a happy place for everyone who enters. So I just want to make sure that no matter what side of this you’re on, you feel comfortable shopping here.”

Mask-wearing, along with vaccination and social distancing, has been identified by public health experts as a vital tool for stopping the spread of COVID-19, which as of December 2 has killed more than 9,500 Coloradans.

“Masks have proven to be effective in reducing the spread of this virus, especially when combined with other prevention efforts” said Dr. John M. Douglas, Jr., TCHD's executive director, in a news release. “With the holiday season upon us, this order is necessary to try to avoid hospital capacity being breached by a growing number of hospitalizations and running the risk of having to ration medical care.”  

A sign on the door of Curate informs shoppers of the new mandate. “According to Arapahoe County, we are now under an indoor mask mandate,” the sign reads. “Thank you for your cooperation!”

But a laminated piece of paper tacked to the entrance only has so much power. Some shoppers still do not wear face coverings at Millspaugh’s store, an issue many stores are facing.

“I really don’t want to have to be the mask police,” Millspaugh said, adding that she especially does not want her employees to have to stop people at the door.

“I don’t want them to make anyone feel like they can’t come into our store and shop,” she explained. “That definitely wasn’t in their job description.”

Unfortunately, it has become a responsibility for many people who work in retail where there are COVID-19 restrictions in place. Last summer, NPR reported on retail workers around the country facing threats for enforcing public health orders. Millspaugh hopes it never comes to that at her store, and that shoppers understand the situation she and her workers are in.

“I would just, you know, ask that shoppers—when they come in—they just understand they may be asked, ‘Do you happen to have a mask or would you like a mask?’ But understand that if your answer is ‘No thank you,’ we still want you to shop with us,” she said. “We still want you to have a great time and support all of these local vendors.”

Brian Willie is the Content Production Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Kyle Cooke is the Digital Media Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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