Manitou Springs stressing education over enforcement of mask mandate

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MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. — Two days before Governor Jared Polis mandated masks inside public businesses, Manitou Springs’ City Council put their city attorney to work to craft a mandate of its own.

“Our plan is to educate people, beyond that notification let them know that they’re in the wrong as kind of a warning and then the last step would be, if it comes down to it, yes enforcement,” Mayor John Graham said.

The fines, when enforced will be $25 the first time and $50 after that, enforced by the city’s lone code enforcement officer.

Graham said the City’s police chief reached out to over a dozen other communities. Most said lower punishments were met with less push back and all but one of the other municipalities had yet to write a ticket.

“Really, this is a cultural change, we understand it takes people a while to get used to this,” Graham said.

Graham estimates the majority of people in the downtown area of the city on a summer afternoon or on the weekend are visitors from both out of town and out of state. Given the rising hospitalizations and case numbers in El Paso County, it was something the city felt necessary to abate an outbreak inside Manitou Springs.

FOX21 found two visitors: Jill Unger from Lakewood and Patrick Kelleher, both say they had COVID-19 in the spring.

“It was actually kind of hellish,” said Unger. “You do not want this. I’ve never had asthma, now I need an inhaler.”

Unger was working at a senior living facility when she contracted the virus. She says the person she caught it from later died from the virus.

Kelleher says he and a few others caught it when someone came into a clinic.

“It sucked, you cough and you can’t breathe,” Kelleher explained.

For having come down with the same sickness, their perspective on masks are far apart. Unger believes she is probably safer than most, but wears it anyway.

“People don’t know that I’ve had it, I’m not going to explain it to everyone,” she said. “I want them to feel safe so, I’m going to wear a mask in spite of the fact that I’ve already had it.”

Kelleher went to Manitou Springs High School and his sister still lives in the canyon. He is a former army medic who has experience in the medical field and says he questions the efficacy of face coverings.

“At most, this is a placebo. Placebos have a healing affect but they’re not that effective and if this works then why are we doing the six foot rule?” he said.

Manitou’s mandate says to wear a mask when six-foot distancing cannot be achieved. Medical experts have also said masks are most effective when worn by an infected person. Whether or not that person has symptoms, they are still contagious and wearing a mask limits the virus they expel through respiratory droplets.

Kelleher will still carry around his Old Glory designed mask with him, particularly as he explores Manitou Springs.

“It’s okay if it gives people confidence you lose nothing but if you go into it saying, ‘Without this, you’re going to die.’ No, it is not,” Kelleher said.

Around downtown Manitou Springs, many businesses still hang signs detailing their mask and social distancing requirements. One of the reasons for the city passing the requirement was to remove some of the pressure businesses and employees faced when enforcing their own policy, according to Graham.

“What we’ve done gives them some leverage to explain to their customers that this is not up for negotiation,” he said.

Unger typically carries around an albuterol inhaler wherever she goes because of the lasting effects of the virus. Her masks also come with her wherever she goes, nearly apart of her wardrobe.

“You wear pants outside right? It’s not about your first amendment rights to not be able to go pant-less so, just put on your damn mask,” Unger said.

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