Colorado wants to give out free KN95 masks at your local library. But maybe call ahead first to see if they have them

Mask mandates are lifting as omicron wave subsides.
Stina Sieg/CPR News
KN95 masks distributed by Mesa County Libraries on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

After Gov. Jared Polis announced the state’s mask giveaway on Tuesday, multiple library systems said they did not have masks available to distribute or were not participating. While distribution did indeed begin Wednesday at some library systems, others say they may delay the start of distribution.

Denver Public Library — the state’s largest library system — notably issued a quick response on Twitter saying it would not be distributing masks immediately. That tweet has since been deleted.

But, as of Wednesday, the Denver Public Library has been removed from the state’s official list of distribution centers, with an amendment at the bottom. 

“Denver Public Libraries are unable to distribute masks to the public at this time. The City and County of Denver is working to identify recreation centers that will have masks for public distribution. The State is also focused on identifying additional Denver-area distribution sites,” read an update at the bottom of the state’s distribution center list.

“The locations who were originally listed filled out the form agreeing to be a redistribution hub for KN95 masks,” said Conor Cahill, the governor’s spokesperson. “And we are in discussions with them to be even more clear about promoting the free medical grade masks through their own communication channels.”

Many confused state residents also took to social media to ask why their counties were not included in the state’s distribution list. The answer may be one of two: either they chose to not opt into the state’s program or they may have not have done so just yet.

The program was news to many library systems, and not every branch will be able to start distributing at the same time.

Some libraries, like the High Plains Library District that serves most of Weld County, only found out about the mask program when the rest of the state did, according to a Facebook post.

“So you've probably heard the good news that your library will have free KN95 and surgical-grade masks thanks to a state program. This is true!” the post reads. “The bad news (which isn't too bad) is that we only heard we'd be a distribution center at the same time you did! So we've recieved [sic] masks at a central location and are shipping them out to libraries as fast as we can.” 

The library is hoping to have masks in their locations by Thursday morning.

The state delivered 82,500 KN95 masks and 226,000 surgical masks on Wednesday, with plans of shipping out hundreds of thousands more on Thursday, according to the governor’s office. 

Other libraries are waiting on shipments of masks, like the Longmont Public Library. They say they’ll update their social media when masks are available. The same goes for the Boulder Public Library and the Louisville Public Library.

In Larimer County, interest in the free masks was high. Diane Lapierre, executive director of the Poudre River Library District, said the system had agreed to distribute masks.

“We are working with our staff to get the masks out to our various locations and will be providing them to the public on a first-come, first-served basis,” Lapierre said in an email. “We have been getting lots of inquiries from our customers, so we are working to request additional supplies as it sounds like there are a lot of folks who are looking for more effective masks.”

Lapierre recommended that area residents call their libraries ahead of time and to ask if there are still masks available.

The Pueblo City-County Library District received 8,000 masks, which are on a first-come, first-serve basis and limited to five masks per person, per month. Masks are available at 8 locations in Pueblo, according to a statement. 

Masks are in high demand at Western Slope libraries

On the Western Slope, the free masks have also been a hot item at Mesa County Public Libraries. Of the 2,000 the libraries received, most were distributed by the end of Wednesday. At the Central Library in Grand Junction, only about 50 masks remained by around 5 p.m., and the security office was doling them out one or two at a time. 

“The demand has been very strong,” said Bob Kretchman, library communications manager. “This first batch, we’re just trying to get as many people as we can started with their masks.” 

He added there was a “good chance” the libraries would run out before the next shipment from the state — and he didn’t know when that shipment would arrive or how many masks it would contain. 

Kretchman said the library system had worked hard to make these masks available in every community it serves, from Grand Junction, population 65,000, to tiny Gateway, home to 20 or so people. There are also branches in Clifton, Orchard Mesa, Palisade, De Beque and Collbran.

Kretchman said the library is part of the fabric of each of these cities and towns. 

“This is one way we can help fulfill that role as an integral part of every community in the county,” he said. 

Since the state’s announcement, 57 more libraries and 6 fire departments have signed up to be distribution locations.

CPR's Ryan Warner contributed to this story.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story referred to Larimer County as Poudre County.