Colorado Schools Are Still Deciding Whether To Follow CDC Mask Guidance

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Denver Public Schools buses at their home off Federal Boulevard, Dec. 14, 2019.

Updated on Aug 18 at 2:24 p.m.

With the Delta variant of the coronavirus surging through unvaccinated populations, school mask mandates may be back on the fall syllabus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on masks again in July, recommending that most of the country — even vaccinated people — wear masks indoors. Breakthrough cases are rare, but the CDC said vaccinated people can still spread the virus if infected. Hospitalization rates among breakthrough cases also remain low.

A majority of Colorado’s 64 counties fall under the CDC’s new masking guidance. Currently, neither the state nor any of the relevant counties have implemented a new mask mandate. Instead, they’re urging unvaccinated residents to get their shots

Vaccination is not yet an option for children younger than 12. It is unclear when the vaccines for that population will be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S. 

Because of that, the CDC recommends that all teachers, staff and students of K-12 schools wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also recommended schools take precautions if local transmission rate is high. 

Here's how some of Colorado's school districts are approaching the school year and CDC mask guidance:

  • Tri-County Health, the public health agency serving Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, set forth on Aug. 17 a new public health order be adopted requiring face coverings in schools, particularly covering younger students. Adams, Douglas and Littleton school district have said they would comply with this order.
  • Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district, will require everyone 2-years-old and over to wear masks in indoor school and childcare settings this fall. The county will also require all unvaccinated faculty and staff, as well as all unvaccinated students and adults who are participating in school-based extracurricular activities, to undergo routine testing during the academic year.
  • All students, faculty and staff at Denver Public Schools, the largest district in the state, will have to wear face coverings when school starts later this month. It applies to all DPS buildings. Students will not be required to wear masks while outdoors.
  • Cherry Creek School District previously had not created a mandate, but changed course on Aug. 13 when they announced all students in pre-kindergarten to 6th grade and the staff in those buildings, including teachers, must wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
  • Similarly, Aurora Public Schools initially recognized the need for masks, but did not create a mandate. However, after Cherry Creek Schools made their announcement on Aug. 13 requiring masks, Aurora followed suit for students up to 8th grade.
  • Eagle County Schools will require masks, after Eagle County Public Health issued an order mandating students in schools with “large numbers of youth that are not yet eligible for vaccination” to wear masks.

Many schools are still in deliberation. Alex Marrero, the new superintendent of the state’s largest school district, told Colorado Matters defaulting to public health experts’ guidance is difficult due to community feedback.

“It's just worth a discussion as opposed to just default, because I think that will be a tremendous disrespect for those who have advocated for us not to mask and those of our parents and our students,” Marrero said.

Colorado’s higher education institutions are also facing the possibility of a renewed mask mandate. Many campuses announced plans to drop mask mandates for all students, faculty and staff earlier this summer. However, with most universities located in areas with high transmission, they could be required by their local health departments to reimplement mask requirements.

“At this time, there is no state or county requirement for indoor masking that applies to our campus. We will continue to coordinate with public health officials and if anything changes, we will notify our campus community,” a University of Colorado Boulder spokesperson told CPR News.